Last week, in honor of the 35th anniversary of the publication of Fear of Flying and the acquisition of Erica Jong's papers by Columbia University, the author herself gave a talk about Flying's role in the feminist pantheon. Rebecca Traister of Salon thinks of Flying more as a sex book than as a feminist book (Jong on her legacy: "I used to worry that they would put zipless fuck on my tombstone."). And though Jong's book is frankly sexual — "his curled pink penis which tasted faintly of urine and refused to stand up in my mouth" — it's also very, very autobiographical, as Jong's irate sister pointed out in the middle the lecture. According to the New Yorker's Rebecca Mead, Jong's sister, Suzanna Daou, stood up and said, "I love my sister very much, but Fear of Flying has been a thorn in my flesh for thirty-five years."
Erica used me, and she used my husband, who was a very kind man, a very handsome man. I just felt I had to do it. It was not a novel; it was a memoir, but it was a memoir something like James Frey's memoir. A lot of nastiness went into that book. But I forgive her for everything, except writing that my husband crawled into her bed, which he didn't, and asked her to perform fellatio, which he didn't.
Of her outburst, Suzanna tells Mead, "I gave myself permission to be a bitch... God forgive me, I didn't mean to do it. But I am at peace." In response, Jong called her sister "insane," and claims, "I thought I was writing a mock memoir, à la Moll Flanders or Robinson Crusoe. I never thought anyone would take it literally, especially a member of my very intelligent family."
However, as the New Yorker points out, Jong used specific details of her sister's life to pad out Flying. But Suzanna's outburst does raise an interesting question about memoir-ish writing in general: is it worth the price of hurting loved ones feelings to create an arguable masterpiece? In this world of TMI and blogging every conquest and conflict, are there too many personal casualties? Isn't it anti-feminist to sell your sister down the river to further your own success? Or is this just a case of sisterly jealousy gone awry?