By Karen Algeo Krizman, Special to the News
Rocky Mountain News
March 31, 2006
It's a well-known "secret" that Martha Stewart has long blamed writer Erica Jong for breaking up her marriage to publisher Andy Stewart. Now it's Jong's turn to respond - and she does just that in Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life.
"'She doesn't only want to control everything everyone eats but what everyone thinks,' " Jong quotes Stewart's ex as saying. " 'When I'm home, I have endless farm duties and household duties. I have no life of my own. Everything is about her.'"
"In my view, everything was indeed about her," Jong writes. "His romancing me was about her, his conversation about her, his rage about her. Rage is not a good basis for sex. Nor is revenge. He was getting his revenge for his chores. He was getting even with her about things I couldn't even imagine."
One would expect no less candor from Jong, who set the world atwitter in 1973 with Fear of Flying, the first work of fiction to openly address female sexuality.
Many readers of that first book sent her hate mail - after first skimming it for the "good parts." Her latest work might elicit the same response. Originally meant to be a guide for aspiring authors, Seducing the Demon instead is a juicy tell-all of a memoir that details Jong's sexcapades with everyone from her current husband to fellow authors and publishers; her struggles with alcohol and her views on writing in general.
"Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer," Jong advises. "Publishers are getting leaner and meaner. Advances are going down and you're only as good as your last sales figures."
If you must take up the craft, be warned. You may find yourself sleeping with the devil – or worse.
"The job of the writer is to seduce the demons of creativity and make up stories," Jong writes. "Often you go to bed with a man who claims to be a demon and later you find out he's just an everyday slob."
God knows Jong has had her share of both.
There was fellatio following lunch with an elderly publisher who struggled to perform. A miserable rendezvous with a married British poet who "shook with fear." "Dart," the "hunk of meat" who showed up, far from fresh, years after their affair. And, of course, there was Stewart's wayward spouse.
"I remember him as big and blond and enthusiastic," Jong recalls. "I know he pulled the comforters to the floor and it was there that we tangled. . .
"In the morning I crept out of (the hotel) room hoping not to be seen by anyone. But the deed had been done. My one-night stand must have gone home and immediately told the wife he'd slept with me - which was apparently the whole point of the exercise.
"From then on (Martha) never lost an opportunity to tell the world: ERICA JONG RUINED MY MARRIAGE. ERICA JONG RUINED MY LIFE. . . . Whenever she saw me, she gave me a killing look."
Jong now regrets her role in the demise of the domestic diva's marriage. "I was wrong," she writes. "My demon made me do it. Sleeping with married men is always trouble. I have forsworn it."
Living the life of a famous female has been fraught with peril for Jong. Brittany Spears take note: "Famous men may find tootsies, gold-diggers and plaster-casters at every turn, but famous women attract louts, losers and men of indeterminate sexuality who want to publicly prove themselves," the author writes.
Then there's the issue of fans. Once you write a salacious novel that becomes an international best seller, you tend to attract your share of weirdos.
"I got a letter from a fan saying that since his wife died he had been very lonely so could I please send him my soiled underwear for him to sniff?" Jong shares. "He had gotten the idea because his wife's underwear was very comforting to him, but now that he had worn it out with sniffing, would I kindly send mine?"
Needless to say, Jong doesn't answer fan mail anymore.
At times, Seducing the Demon leads Jong down a crude road. (As in language too rough to print in a family publication.) There's also a certain level of superficiality to the book - kind of like the chick lit that Jong so wholeheartedly applauds.
And do we really need to know that thong underwear gives the writer diaper rash?
Yet, for Jong, writing this book - like all her others - was a form of therapy.
"I need the process of writing to keep from going mad," she admits. "Writing is the first antidepressant. It came before Prozac or Effexor. And it was cheaper."
Too bad those who came before Jong didn't find writing to have the same cathartic effect: In a lengthy discussion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Jong voices her frustration with their decisions to take their own lives. "These two daredevil poets opened the road for me," she writes. "Then they closed it in another way by their self-inflicted deaths. I loved their poetry and abhorred their deaths. I wanted to smash that paradigm. Why must women artists die for their talent and self-assertion?"
Jong's more than smashed the paradigm. She's all but obliterated it. And she knows it. Perhaps that's why even a superficial recounting of her writing life is worth the read.
"I survived to have the last laugh," she writes. "Keats not withstanding, book reviews can't kill. The men and women who were terrified by Fear of Flying have either gone silent or convinced themselves they always loved the book.
"Now the girls of my daughter's generation have size twelve feet and booming voices. They all have Blackberries and Treos. They text-message their funky desires to their lovers. They read my books and think - Why did my mother hide this from me? It's not that raunchy at all."
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