Picks and Pans Review: Any Woman's Blues

updated 03/05/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Erica Jong

While the jury remains out on the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we now know for a certainty the maximum amount of imbecilic drivel that can fit into a 362-page novel.

You couldn't cram another bubble-brained sentence into this book with a crowbar, as Jong—in a seeming test of her admirers' patience—writes about a sex-crazed, middle-aged woman artist.

Leila Sand is obsessed with penises the way the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are with pizzas—all varieties and sizes—though like the Turtles, Leila likes them big. The book is full of so many phallic symbols that if they were laid end to end—which they are—they would reach from here to Timbuktu.

Sand is supposed to be a high-powered art-world type and at times meditates on art or philosophy for a phrase or two, but what she is mostly about is orgasms. Making love six or seven times a night is routine for her, and she has a very low threshold of arousal; if any guy whose you-know-what is in the right place looks at her with anything less than raging hostility, she's off and running, and sometimes she doesn't even let raging hostility stop her.

She's also a woefully unconvincing and inconsistent creation. That she can vacillate between mindless male-trashing and abject subservience to foolish men is defensible, fitting in as it does with Jong's fixation on women as whining victims.

But on the one hand she says, "I want people to be kind and tender and love each other," while on the other, "Sometimes the death of a June bug would move me as deeply as the death of my own mother." Leila also does things like strolling casually into a sadomasochism parlor and beating a man bloody with a whip.

Though Jong, obviously, can write and think, this novel casts doubt upon her ability to do both at the same time anymore. She even resorts to a desperate self-referential device, introducing parenthetical observations from Isadora Wing, the heroine of her landmark feminist novel Fear of Flying. When she pulls off a mild joke—"There's no business like shoe business"—she has to repeat it a page later, as if it's a crowning achievement. Then there's the fact that she fills the book with lines from Bessie Smith songs, dishonoring the great blues singer (one of whose tunes gave rise to Jong's title) by acting as if this fourth-rate novel is somehow an extension of Smith's music. And how sensitive can an author be if to get a laugh she describes a woman character as "thin enough to have flunked the selection line at Auschwitz."

The book finally generates only idle questions. Are there, for instance, actually any women this monomaniacally fascinated with sex in real life; if so, what are their phone numbers? (Harper & Row, $18.95)

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