She's Gotta Have It | The Nation


She's Gotta Have It

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And so it goes, throughout the novel and into the seeming eternity of the three sequels. Erica married just out of Barnard to a lovely nut who promptly had a nervous breakdown; Isadora did the same. Erica thereafter married the Chinese psychiatrist Allan Jong; Isadora's second husband is the Chinese psychiatrist Bennett Wing. The Jongs attended a psychoanalytic conference in Vienna, where Erica met a sexy, walleyed British Laingian hippie analyst. The Wings attend a Viennese shrinks' conference, and Isadora giddily runs off with Adrian Goodlove, a sexy, walleyed etc. Adrian drags Isadora through the grotty campgrounds of Europe, where they discover that freedom's just another word for licentious sex quickly going stale. (Jong has allowed as how the adulterous camping spree never happened, pushing Fear of Flying from memoir-with-made-up-names to invented fiction.)

About the Author

Claire Dederer
Claire Dederer, who lives in Seattle, writes frequently for the New York Times Book Review.

Also by the Author

In 1966 Valerie Solanas moved to New York City. At 30, she was already a woman with a difficult past. Growing up in New Jersey, she was molested by her father.

The next novel, How to Save Your Own Life, finds Isadora the author of a runaway bestseller, Candida Confesses, and the wife of the son of a famous Hollywood screenwriter. So it was for Jong, who, after the publication of Fear of Flying, hooked up with Howard Fast's son Jon and bought a Malibu love nest. Isadora tangles with some Hollywood types, while Jong, in a bid for inclusion in the annals of All-Time Terrible Ideas, sued producer Julia Phillips, ICM and Columbia Pictures over the rights to Fear of Flying.

Jong and Fast eventually moved back to Connecticut and had little Molly Jong-Fast. The two split soon thereafter, and Jong went on a single-lady stampede, ushering in a decade of affairs and substance abuse chronicled in Parachutes & Kisses and Any Woman's Blues. Isadora terminates there, alone but with a new serenity, while Jong went on to marry one more time.

A frank, relentless surveillance makes Fear of Flying Jong's best book. Her earlier poetry was unabashedly sexual and quite funny. ("Beware of the man who praises liberated women; he is planning to quit his job.") In Fear of Flying, that unsparing gaze is directed toward herself. The book is preoccupied with feminism and psychoanalysis, and these two great twentieth-century movements were engaged in essentially the same project: the discovery of the true self. Jong knew this discovery could be uncomfortable, as shown in this passage, where Isadora writes a letter to a book editor: "'Dear Mrs. Jones,' I began. But was that too presumptuous? Perhaps I should say 'Mrs. Jones'; the 'Dear' might be seen to be currying favor. How about no heading? Just launch into the letter? No. That was too stern."

It takes a whole lot of feminism, or psychoanalysis, or whatever's your poison, to be honest about dithering like an insecure fool over the salutation to a letter. Fear of Flying is characterized by this plunging into every aspect of Isadora's life and making a fetish out of honesty. Most famously, Jong turned this clear eye to sex. But sex is only one aspect of a book determined to blow the lid off, well, everything. Fear of Flying, so beautifully lacking in self-consciousness, was perhaps an unrepeatable performance. It has an adolescent quality to it, a spastic gesturing.

Isadora, like any sensible woman, takes feminism as an assumed good. But, like any sensible woman, Isadora rankles at feminism's strictures. Talking about her first husband (the crazy one), she sounds liberated: "A good woman would have given over her life to the care and feeding of her husband's madness. I was not a good woman. I had too many other things to do." But she's not quite there yet. Even as she falls in love with Adrian Goodlove, she knows she shouldn't rely on a man to solve her problems: "A really independent woman would go to the mountains alone and meditate--not take off with Adrian Goodlove in a battered Triumph." What Erica Jong knew is that most women feel like they ought to want the mountaintop, but really want the Triumph.

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