MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Author Erica Jong wrote FEAR OF FLYING in 1973. The novel was loved by some critics, loathed by others and it became an international bestseller. Jong has written a number of books since then, her latest SEDUCING THE DEMON was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review this week and it was panned.
Jong admits that in the past a nasty review really got to her, but now she thinks maybe she can learn something from the critics' stinging words.
ERICA JONG reporting:
On Sunday the New York Times Book Review called my new book SEDUCING THE DEMON "disheveled and trapped in time." That review wasn't as scary as the one in the Chicago Sun Times, which called me "a delusional car wreck."
Ever since I published FEAR OF FLYING in 1973, some reviews of my books haven't just been bad, they've been apoplectic, as if I'd committed a crime that had nothing to do with words.
Being called "a giant pudenda" by Paul Theroux still sticks three decades later. For most of my career after reading a bad review, I would take to my bed, refuse all calls, drink wine straight from the bottle, eat chocolate cakes, swear off writing and consider going into social work and fantasize about doing bodily harm to critics.
I considered hiring a hit man, but since I've always pretty much hung out with liberals and eggheads, I never had access to that phone number. So my revenge of choice would be public humiliation. Four inches taller in my black velvet boots I would splash cold vodka in my critics' eyes at the Pen Gala. Blinded for the evening they would still see the error of their ways, repent, fall to their knees and write letters of retraction.
Yet I was never able to inflict my fantasy. I am neither Gore Vidal nor Camille Paglia, the only two writers who make vitriol both illuminating and entertaining. I have stood face to face with my detractors and said nothing but how are you while they shuffled from foot to foot bracing themselves for a punch or that vodka.
Am I cowardly or wise?
Wise by default. I know that revenge springs back on the avenger. Also, ever since my prescribed Welbutrin kicked in, I'm able to be a lot more mellow when I get bad news. What used to be body blows are now flaps. So instead of seeing the review as a personal vendetta or sexist attack, I'm living with the fact that the critics simply thought my book sucked.
So, how can I write a better one?
Here's how, become less self-centered. One thing my critics, my husband, my daughter and my editor all make fun of me for is my narcissism. How do I get over myself? Being a grandmother helps because it made me realize what a self-absorbed mother I was. The nanny changed my daughter's diapers. As some kind of penance I now insist on changing as many of my grandson's as my daughter and son-in-law will allow.
Besides I've always wanted to improve and evolve as a writer. I'm now writing a novel about my doppelganger, Isadora Wing, as a woman of a certain age and finally at 64, I've gotten to the point where I realize there are lives and characters more interesting than mine and Isadora's.
After inhabiting a writer's mind for decades, I'd like to inhabit the mind of my readers and, God help me, my critics, to love them instead of demanding that they love me.
BLOCK: Erica Jong is the author of FEAR OF FLYING and most recently SEDUCING THE DEMON. She lives in Manhattan.
Just for the record, the Washington Post described her newest book as "rowdy, self-deprecating and endearing."