Monday, August 9, 2010

What Falls Away

By Kathleen Bradean

Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying opened up a world for me. Not so much the sex, but the other things that she talked about. Being raised in a conservative home, we never talked about our bodies. Maybe Fear of Flying came into my hands at the right time. I was ready to move into a different point of view on myself and there it was, a book that openly talked about everything, as if normal people didn’t desperately cling to secrets that everyone knew about anyway. Burdens came off my soul.

Soon after that I decided to read all the classics of literature. I was eighteen. I read fast. I figured I’d be done by the time I was twenty-one. (Cue rueful laughter) What I learned from “great” literary fiction was that sex was joyless and only lead to misery and long, quiet suffocation in an upper middle class white neighborhood. Since there was no way I could afford the Hamptons, and wouldn’t have lived with those spiritual zombies anyway, I was free from that fate. Whew! Then I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While it’s also about the crushing weight of moral responsibility people force themselves to endure, the sex, at least, was joyful. It was also slightly kinky. I was born kink, but I never suspected others were the same way. Another secret unlocked, another burden lifted.

While classic literary fiction can teach a writer a lot about exquisitely depicting prolonged longing, it always cheats on the delivery. I guess that’s supposed to be the point, but really, doesn’t anyone ever get to be happy? Tom Robbins’ Sometimes Even Cowgirls Get the Blues set me on the right path. Genre fiction allowed people to enjoy sex. How could I have forgotten what Fear of Flying did for me? That’s when I set out to find books that celebrated sexuality, and how I ended up Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Now there was an eye opener. Not just people enjoying sex, but every page was drenched in it.

You’d have to go back to that time to understand the huge impact of the Sleeping Beauty books. Suddenly, erotica could be published by a major publisher and be shelved beside other literary fiction instead of hidden in the back shelves of the store - if they were ever stocked at all. Women, who supposedly had no interest in sex, were reading it at the beach and squirming a bit against the sand. It was discussed on air by the morning hosts of my radio station. Sure, Story of O and Anis Nin’s collections were around, but nothing brought erotica into the mainstream like Sleeping Beauty. With that new openness, the final restraints were off me, but I've noticed the trend of literary writers such as Paulo Coelho embracing a more positive view of sex and sexuality. What falls away with time, success, and powerful voices, is useless shame, secrecy and fear. That's what I find inspiring.

4 comments:

  1. Kathleen,

    Anne Rice. Erica Jong. Anais Nin. Sure, pick all the big names so the rest of us have no one left to blog about this week :-)

    Great post. And some damned good reading there.

    Best,

    Ash

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  2. Jong's Fear of Flying was also one of those pivotal books for me.

    By that time in my life, I'd gotten a hold of some books that were what I would call "about" sex but FOF was about life, and included sex as part of the plot. I read some other Jong books, Irving Wallace and others of the time, and it really opened my mind to literary possibilities for sexual exploration.

    Thanks for sharing, and for inspiring some literary memories!

    Craig

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  3. Hello, Kathleen,

    A wonderful account of a literary odyssey! When did your voice as a writer awaken?

    If I were to go back to the books that inspired me to think about sex, I might end up talking about Ian Fleming's James Bond books. We used to pass them around in high school study hall with the "good parts" underlined. Sure, there was never anything explicit, but those tales were just soaked with erotic tension. And they were about sex for pleasure, not for love... definitely inspiring!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  4. Ash - Why do you think I agreed to go earlier in the week? :P

    Craig - I'm glad to know Fear of Flying was pivotal to other people too. Seeing sex as just part of life was huge.

    Lisabet - Ah yes, the Bond books. The original ones. Tasty stuff. Sad to say, the real motivator for my writing was an absolutely terrible erotic novel. At first I laughed that something so full of purple prose and cardboard characters was published then I was angry that it was seemingly the best that modern erotica could do. Of course there were much better novels out there, but by the time I found them, I was already writing.

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