Ahead of its Time

WEEK EIGHTEEN

BOOKS REMAINING:  27

CURRENT BOOK:  Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

I won’t spoil how the plot of the novel unfolds, but some of the main character’s thoughts, especially about marriage, continued to be ahead of the novel’s time, when women were in the process of becoming more liberated.  This is one of the first books on The List in a while that I have found much that was highly relatable to quote from:

All my fantasies included marriage.  No sooner did I imagine myself running away from one man than I envisioned myself tying up with another. …  The virtues of marriage were mostly negative virtues.  Being unmarried in a man’s world was such a hassle that anything had to be better.  Marriage was better.  But not much.  Damned clever, I thought, how men had made life so intolerable for single women that most would gladly embrace even bad marriages instead.  Almost anything had to be an improvement on hustling for your own keep at some low-paid job and fighting off unattractive men in your spare time while desperately trying to ferret out the attractive ones.  Though I’ve no doubt being single is just as lonely for a man it doesn’t have the added extra wallop of being downright dangerous, and it doesn’t automatically imply poverty and the unquestioned status of a social pariah.

***

Take the marriage I dreamed of in my idealistic adolescence. … I wanted “total mutuality,” “companionship,” “equality.” …  I know some good marriages.  Second marriages mostly. Marriages where both people have outgrown the bullshit of me-Tarzan, you-Jane and are just trying to get through their days by helping each other, being good to each other, doing the chores as they come up and not worrying too much about who does what.

Interesting comment about second marriages and moving past the tit-for-tat, and, I think, very true.  At times, she delves into the human condition and eternal questions:

Me:  What is so terrible about being alone?

Me:  Because if no man loves me I have no identity.

Me:  But obviously that isn’t true.  You write, people read your work and it matters to them.  You teach and your students need you and care about you.  You have friends who love you.  Even your parents and sisters love you — in their own peculiar way.

Me:  None of that makes a dent in my loneliness.  I have no man.  I have no child.

Me:  But you know that children are no antidote to loneliness.

Me:  I know.

Me:  And you know that men and woman can never wholly possess each other.

Me:  I know.

Me:  And you know you’d hate to have a man who possessed you totally and used up your breathing space….

Me:  I know.  But I hear for it desperately.

Me:  But if you had it you’d feel trapped.

Me:  I know.

Me:  You want contradictory things.

Me:  I know.

Me:  You want freedom and you also want closeness.

Me:  I know.

Me:  Very few people ever find that.

And the importance of having a strong sense of self:

You did not have to apologize for wanting to own your own soul.  Your soul belonged to you — for better or for worse.  When all was said and done, it was all you had.

Marriage was tricky because in some ways it was always a folie a deux.  At times you scarcely knew where your own lunacies left off and those of your spouse began.  You tended to blame yourself too much, or not enough, or for the wrong things.  And you tended to confuse dependency with love.

In the context of getting her first period, the narrator has quite a different reaction from Margaret of Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret.  I think maybe Alison Bechdel could relate.

was afraid of being a woman.  Not afraid of the blood…but afraid of all the nonsense that went along with it.  Like being told that if I had babies, I’d never be an artist, like my mother’s bitterness, like my grandmother’s boring concentration on eating and excreting, like being asked by some dough-faced boy if I planned to be a secretary.

Even about love, the narrator has some ambivalence:

“Why don’t you forget about love and just try to lead your own life?” Adrian had asked.  And I had argued with him.  But maybe he was right after all.  What had love ever done for me but disappoint me?  Or maybe I had looked for the wrong things in love.  I wanted to lose myself in a man, to cease to be me, to be transported to heaven on borrowed wings.  Isadora Icarus, I ought to call myself.  And the borrowed wings never stayed on when I needed them.  Maybe I really needed to grow my own.

Of course, much has changed since the time the novel was written.  Things can still be difficult for a single woman.  Especially in certain professions, it’s still a man’s world.  There is still a lot of pressure from society for a woman to find a man (a la Bridget Jones’ Diary).  But…it’s not like it was in 1973.  There’s still room to grow, but there has also been a shift, especially in the boundaries people set within their marriages.

To an extent, I felt the novel delved too much into the narrator’s past, including the adolescent fantasies she shared with her friends and her first husband’s mental breakdown.  There is enough going on in her present, with her mixed feelings about her marriage and her affair with the other man from the convention.  She does come to better self-awareness by the end, and makes decisions regarding what she wants, although it’s left unseen whether things work out the way she wanted.

So, on to the next one…I thought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was next, but then realized I had skipped over it.  I also thought I owned it, but either I never did, or I couldn’t find it where I thought I had stored it.  On to the 3M Cloud Library…had to put a hold on it. On to the next novel, The House on Mango Street…had to put a hold on it.  On to the next book, which the 3M Cloud Library did not have available.  On to the next book after that, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  That one was available on 3M Cloud library.  It’s a re-read.  I’ll get it over with while waiting for Harry Potter.

 

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