Note to the reader: this is a review of an adult book, and there are rude words and adult topics. If you think you might be offended by this, please visit the bunnies sub-Reddit.
I continue my reading of women writers with Erica Jong. I picked Jong for a couple reasons. One, I knew she wrote about the human condition from a woman’s point of view. She’d be helpful to me in depicting realistic female characters — especially ones who are in conflict with their society. Also, I’d picked up this book years back when I was working and, reading part of it, found it accessible and fun. I always wanted to read the whole thing. Coming after Nin, Jong was in many ways a continuum: very psychological, presents a character who is steeped in psychoanalysis and surrounded by psychoanalysts, facing an essential duality, and who is preoccupied with sexual fulfillment. D. H. Lawrence is a major figure in both works as well, oddly enough.
Compared to Anais Nin, I found Jong an easier read. In contrast to Nin, this is not a journal, but a fictional memoir, a vehicle for Jong to explore her own passage into fully-realized adulthood. Whereas Nin was a predator, like a tiger-cum-tasmanian devil rampaging through the jungle (well, France) like a trucker at an all-you-can-eat buffet, Jong’s protagonist Isadora is more of a furry little woodland animal that, knowing where her burrow is, and how cozy it might be, is driven to search out new climes. Isadora’s is a circular story: she starts with husband Bennett, goes on an excursion with another man, exploring her past along the way, is dropped off and abandoned, hits rock bottom and climbs out, finding completion as a fully actualized adult, back with her husband. Nin’s Diary is by definition a slice of life, with growth along the way, for sure, but no closure.
Another difference is that Nin had as many quotable lines on a page as Jong has in a chapter. That’s not a slight on Jong, she has some trenchant quotes, such as “Never fuck a psychoanalyst is my advice to all you young things out there” and, regarding her husband’s silent approach to sex: “How did I know that a few years later, I’d feel like I was fucking Helen Keller?” (p. 30). And, of course, it was in this book she introduced the ‘zipless fuck,’ a classic Jong-ism which entered the mainstream in the seventies. But Jong’s book is a narrative, she tells a tale, more so than Nin, who analyzed every moment of her life in her journals.
In addition to her disarming frankness, Jong has a wonderful sense of pathos, and weaves it with black humor. Entranced by the ashing Adrian, who grabs her butt, the lonely, unfulfilled and Jewish Isadora writes “All I wanted was for him to press my ass again. I would have followed him anywhere. Dachau, Auschwitz, anywhere” (p. 24).
And there is the lyrical Jong. Like her protagonist, Isadora, Jong was a poet, and now and then she really lets loose, often delivering sensitive subjects with both resounding frankness and lyricism, often mixing the raw and the delicate in the same passage. She introduces the essence of Isadora’s disaffection thus:
“But what about all those other longings which after a while marriage did nothing to appease? The restlessness, the hunger, the thump in the gut, the thump in the cunt, the longing to be filled up, to be fucked through every hole, the yearning for dry champagne and wet kisses, for the smell of peonies in a penthouse on a June night, for the light at the end of the pier in Gatsby…”