She's Gotta Have It | The Nation


She's Gotta Have It

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Still, whatever might be said about Jong's writing, she has shown an uncanny knack for embodying the zeitgeist in her personal life. Reading her memoir you find she is almost hilariously a creature of her time. When Fear of Flying hit it big, she bought a Pacer. A Pacer! A 1976 "Newsmakers" paragraph in Newsweek revealed her "standing on her head and performing other acrobatics as a convert to yoga." Then she ran off to Malibu and bought a house with a waterbed and a hot tub, overlooking the Pacific. The 1980s found her ensconced in Connecticut, living the suburban good life like the parents in Risky Business. In the 1990s she was full of goddess-worship and AA spirituality. Now, as an aging baby boomer, Jong has developed a typically geriatric interest in antiquity with Sappho's Leap.

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.

If Jong didn't get you with her writing, she'd still end up representing you simply by being the world's most visible liberated lady. My mother, an excellent reader and also a hater of sexy stuff, didn't like Fear of Flying. "Dull," she said, when I asked her about it. But get this: Around the time the book came out, my mother left my father for a hippie eight years her junior. Here's Jong, in a 1977 interview, talking about her second novel: "Many men are outraged by How to Save Your Own Life because it is an instance of a woman actually changing her life, and doing this awful thing of finding a younger man--a man with no money and a beard." Oh, boy, was that ever Larry, that last bit about no money and a beard. In fact, he had enough beard to braid it, and, what's more, he did. The four of us--my mother, Larry, my brother and myself--went off to live on a sailboat for the summer. There was a little hammock over my bunk where I kept my Archie comics. There was the smell of pot. There was rolling out my sleeping bag every night. This was freedom.

Now, my mom was not one of those women who read Fear of Flying and showed up on Erica Jong's doorstep in hopes of tea and sympathy (or white wine and giggly sex talk). She didn't use Jong as a how-to manual. But Jong normalized such behavior. She was blonde, she was unthreatening, she was featured in Time magazine and she was saying it's OK to go. Just go, she said. And they all did.

My mother and Larry are still together. It would be hard to say that what she did was a mistake. Larry turned out to be one of the great ones. He became, of all things, a tugboat captain. My brother and I had an adventurous childhood, which sounds like, and sometimes was, a Chinese curse. Possibilities proliferated ahead of us: more parents, more homes, more adventures. Unfortunately, these are not necessarily things children want. And what of my lovely father, left behind?

My mother married at 22; she had my older brother at 24. Reading Erica Jong reminded me that my mom's generation didn't hear a word about feminism until it was too late. When liberation began singing in their ears, they already had kids. They were unskilled. They didn't have careers. They had no idea what they were doing. But so beautiful was the singing, they left anyway. They had to go, once someone told them they could.

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