“Learning to walk with crutches has an otherworldly component.” So writes Flook (Mothers and Lovers, 2014, etc.) in one of the occasional G-rated passages in this lurid but limping memoir.
Have we lost our ability to be shocked? When the author confesses to having had sex with her brother (“no penetration”), the men in the room with her at the time leer, but those of us outside the fourth wall are likely to do nothing more than blink. Flook also tells about the time she had sex with three French sailors in rapid succession; “sisterly masturbation” with another woman writer; and an affair with her editor. The author insists that her development as a writer, the ostensible subject of the piece, is bound up so closely with her sex life that the two can’t be separated, but every time she aims to épater le bourgeois, it falls flat. Were the memoir by a writer of greater renown, some of this literary-sex-nexus stuff might be of interest, but as presented here, it’s mechanical, clinical, and mostly just tedious. (There are admittedly a couple of memorable moments, one of them when a sex addict with a violent streak winds up as a writer of Hallmark Cards.) More interesting are Flook’s portraits of her mother—suffice it to say that the old acorn and oak metaphor comes to mind—and gravely ill son, both of whom illustrate a point: the author writes deeply and well when the lens is on someone else and the topics at hand, such as death and literary rivalry, are more serious, all of which happen less often than one might like. Still, if lines like, “it’s a delicious weakness that I welcome each time a man nudges my legs open” make you go all a-tremble, then this is just the ticket, though Erica Jong probably has nothing to worry about.
With a bang and a whimper—and a yawn.