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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vodka bottles encased in flower-filled blocks of ice

Erica Jong's memoir, Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, is due out soon. Today Books has published an excerpt about Jong's one-night stand with Martha Stewart's then-husband, Andy Stewart. The story is unsurprising, awful, and strangely compelling. My favorite detail is Andy Stewart's apparent frustration at Martha's impeccable home; the detail about the "vodka bottles encased in flower-filled blocks of ice" is fantastic! (Thanks to Heather for the link.)

I think Jong has been relying on the same two writerly moves--detailed descriptions of ambivalent sex followed by sweeping examples of her love for literature--over and over again in her career. The excerpt of her memoir is good evidence for that hypothesis:
If I could take this incident back, I would. My regret is Dantean--and not just because Martha keeps telling tabloid journalists about this twenty-six-year-old gaffe and denouncing me as if she had no faults herself. But I accept the blame. I was always besotted by books and anyone who made them. Remember the story of Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s Inferno?

Galeotto fu il libro e chi lo scrisse

That book was our panderer
and him that made it ...

Beware of books. They are more than innocent assemblages of paper and ink and string and glue. If they are any good, they have the spirit of the author within. Authors are rogues and ruffians and easy lays. They are gluttons for sweets and savories. They devour life and always want more. They have sap, spirit, sex. Books are panderers. The Jews are not wrong to worship books. A real book has pheromones and sprouts grass through its cover.

In the next two paragraphs of the excerpt, she includes a conversation with her editor--is this ever a good sign in a memoir, that self-involvement could be so pervasive that even her editing process makes it into the final draft?

When I was at Barnard, I was selected as one of the lucky financial aid students who would attend Barnard's annual fundraising dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The Office of Special Events offered the students the chance to help with the set-up on the afternoon of the affair. I spent the afternoon assembling gift bags for the guests and then changed into my cocktail dress in one of the hotel rooms. As one of the guests of honor, Martha had insisted on overseeing some of the planning that's usually left up to the event planners and the hotel, so she had flown in thousands of full-blown Ecuadorian roses in every color to be placed on all the dinner tables. After dinner and dessert, we had to go help set up the table for the gift bags in the ballroom next door. We started to arrange the gift bags, but one of Martha's people stopped us: "Martha wants the bags arranged in a herringbone pattern."

I knew what a herringbone pattern looks like, but I was confused about how to execute it in such little time.

"Just alternate the different-colored bags, with rows of pale cucumber and light sage," the organizer told me.

I had been making these bags all afternoon, and it hadn't occurred to me that there were two different colors of light green. I probably would have been able to distinguish between pale cucumber and light sage--these bags were more like light sage and light kale--and it was very dim in the ballroom because we weren't supposed to disturb the guests. We put them out in no pattern at all, but the guests were so eager to grab Martha's gift bags that they didn't notice the random assortment of two very similar colors. This was the kind of thing that would have gotten me kicked off "The Apprentice," which Priscilla and I watched every Wednesday night out of Barnard solidarity. I'm partly on Martha's side here: it would have done better without Trump's show as competition, but I think she needed sidekicks with better personality.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Tue Mar 21, 09:07:00 PM:
ALICE! You neglected to mention what was IN the gift bags you arranged. Day-of-the-week tea towels!!
Blogger Marina on Wed Mar 22, 02:17:00 PM:
I can't believe I gave in and followed the link to Oprah's eerie collection of filmstars and authors.. it sucked away nearly an hour! I'm not suprised that A.S.Byatt mentioned Middlemarch (which would make it into my top 5 books-I'll-die-happy-to-have-read), but I bounced up and down and shouted 'yesssssss!' to see that Zadie Smith had chosen Middlemarch AND Larkin's High Windows. Larkin's Collected Poems was the most exciting book I read while I was at school.

I'm not that big a fan of Zadie Smith's writing, but I love the fact that she's collected the two books together in some fashion, because I think there's a link, there, somewhere.
Blogger Unknown on Thu Mar 23, 01:15:00 AM:
Anna's father once met Erica Jong at a party and described her as "The ugliest retarded woman he had ever met."