Table of Contents
ALSO BY ERICA JONG
Fear of Flying
How to Save Your Own Life
Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones
Megan’s Book of Divorce; Megan’s Two Houses
Parachutes & Kisses
Serenissima: A Novel of Venice
Fruits & Vegetables
At the Edge of the Body
The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller
Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir
What Do Women Want?
Seducing the Demon
JEREMY P. TARCHER/PENGUIN
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 1990, 2006 by Erica Mann Jong
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Published simultaneously in Canada
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Any woman’s blues : a novel of obsession / Erica Jong.—1st Jeremy P. Tarcher pbk. ed. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-11778-1
1. Women—Fiction. 2. Relationship addiction—Fiction. 3. Self-esteem—Fiction.
4. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
For the impossible he who lives inside me
Throw your heart out in front of you and run ahead to catch it.
I intend to stake out my own
claim, a tiny one, but my own.
Lacking a name for it, I’ll call
pro tem—The Land of Fuck.
Love has no words to spell or lines to start and stop.
(The Big Book)
The blues ain’t nothing but the facts of life.
How I came to edit this curious manuscript—and how indeed Isadora Wing came to write it—are two of the many bizarre stories the ensuing pages have to tell. I hesitate to label the book either “fiction” or “autobiography”—for it was Isadora Wing’s unique genius to blur the boundaries between the two. But in editing
Any Woman’s Blues,
which was necessarily a partial and unpolished manuscript, there was another problem to contend with: namely that the author herself left, along with her unfinished book, her arguments with herself and her heroine in the margins of the working draft. These I have taken the liberty of inserting into the text—in italics—where I presume Isadora Wing wished them to go. Thus we have a unique record of an author arguing with, and indeed heckling, her creature—a creative dialogue that must go on in the heads of all novelists, but that, in most cases, we are not privileged to see.
When did Isadora Wing write
Any Woman’s Blues?
Internal references in the manuscript make it probable that the novel was composed in the late eighties, at the tail end of the decade of greed and excess known as the Reagan years. This would in turn jibe with the known facts of Isadora Wing’s life—that she nearly always wrote her “novels” in response to disastrous events in her personal life and that in the latter years of the eighties she was attempting to break an obsession with a much younger man, one Berkeley Sproul III, a handsome young WASP heir, who had an unfortunate dependence on drugs and alcohol.
The first chapter of the “novel” seems to me one of the most extraordinary pieces of writing I have ever read. It is raw and vulnerable to a degree that seems to push literary counterphobia to the limit. Were Isadora Wing alive today, I wonder how she could tolerate the publication of this work—so exposed does it seem. She seems indeed to have known this, for a note to her research assistant and amanuensis, scrawled in the margins of the last page of Chapter One, reads:
Pls. do a computer search and see how many times the word “cock” is used in this chapter. I feel like I’m drowning in pubic hair—if he prongs her once more I’ll scream!
Perhaps a further word to the wise is necessary here before plunging willy-nilly, as it were, into the endometrial landscape of
Any Woman’s Blues.
This so-called novel is not for the prudish or the faint of heart. It is throbbing and raw to a degree that will shock the most hardened libertine. Nevertheless, I think there is merit in publishing it—if only to demonstrate what a dead end the so-called sexual revolution had become, and how desperate so-called free women were in the last few years of our decadent epoch.
Any Woman’s Blues
is a fable for our times: a story of a woman lost in excess and extremism—a sexaholic, an alcoholic, and a food addict. It is the “novel” Isadora Wing was in the midst of writing when her rented plane—a de Havilland Beaver (whose name she must have chuckled over)—was reported missing over the South Pacific in the vicinity of the Trobriand Islands. (Her last desperate stab at serenity—conquering her fear of flying and going to the South Pacific in search of utopia—seems like a mad attempt to play Gauguin when playing Emma Goldman had failed.) At the date of this prefactory study, the wreckage has not been found.
For several years, Ms. Wing had been taking flying lessons. She qualified as a pilot in 1987 and delighted in flying her own plane, a Bellanca, in the skies above her home state of Connecticut.
Her plane—a complex single-engine that “takes off fast and lands short,” according to Ms. Wing—was called
Amazon I,a name that I believe she used ironically. Like all poets, she had a penchant for giving names to inanimate objects, and at one time in her life drove a Mercedes whose license plate read QUIM.
During Ms. Wing’s final, tragic flight, she was accompanied by her fourth, and last, husband, the noted conductor and composer Sebastian Wanderlust, a friend of fifteen years whom she had just married. It is not known whether she or
Sebastian was flying the plane, but internal evidence from her voluminous diaries suggests that it was she. She is survived by an eleven-year-old daughter, Amanda Ace, two stepsons, three sisters, her aged (but youthful though grief-stricken) parents, and eight nieces and nephews.
Ms. Wing’s daughter being a minor, the executors of her estate quite properly sought a reputable feminist scholar to edit and prepare for the press Ms. Wing’s last literary works, her “literary remains,” so to speak. This sad but exhilarating task fell to me.
I had been very much taken with Ms. Wing’s first book of poems,
which I instantly recognized as something new in women’s poetry, an antidote to the doom-ridden, deathward poetry of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, a woman poet embracing and celebrating her own womanliness with verve and joie de vivre. Ms. Wing’s first novel,
the succès de scandale that made her a household name, had not yet been published, and Ms. Wing herself was then a part-time professor of English at CCNY in New York. We met as colleagues, as feminists, as contemporaries, both committed to the struggle for women’s equality, both, if I may presume, Shakespeare’s sisters. I remember a warm and engaging blonde in her late twenties, with a savagely self-mocking wit, a sort of gallows humor of the underdog, and a tendency to pepper her speech with Yiddishisms, four-letter words, and literary references. I was drawn to her immediately. But I also remember a great sadness in her eyes and a vulnerability that troubled and surprised me.
I never had met anyone that vulnerable except for the poet Anne Sexton (another reader in our series and, in fact, our stellar attraction that year), and I could not quite make sense of the bravado of Ms. Wing’s writing and the vulnerability of her persona. It was as if the two halves of herself had not yet come together; and indeed it is still hard for me to associate the fragile young writer I met in 1973 with the woman of the world who piloted her own plane, had numerous lovers, and lived as hard as she wrote, taking the Hemingwayesque ideal of the novelist and appropriating it for the whole female sex.
Through the years, Ms. Wing and I met infrequently, but we continued to correspond sporadically. After Ms. Wing’s tragic disappearance, I was invited by her stepson Charles Wanderlust, himself an eminent scholar of English literature (pre-Romantic poetry), and her sister Chloe, a psychotherapist in New York City, to make sense of the mass of papers on Ms. Wing’s desk in Connecticut.