Jennifer Weiner has a nice rant — I’d link if someone would tell me, via e-mail, how to use the HTML feature here — about Erica Jong. For now, I’ll just give you the address (http://www.jenniferweiner.blogspot.com/2004_05_09_jenniferweiner_archive.html#108424016056119625)and use it as a springboard to talk about That Cover.
You know the one, if you grew up in the ’70s. It was the paperback cover of Fear of Flying, a zipper revealing what today woul be considered an impossibly zaftig torso. I remember seeing the book around for years before I finally dared to read it. In fact, my first exposure to Jong was in “The Madman,” an excerpt from Fear of Flying published in Playboy. Read while babysitting, natch. (Other things read while babysitting: Most of Ian Fleming, most memorably The Spy Who Loved Me, which was written from the first-person point of view of a woman that Bond saves.)
I didn’t see the “real” cover of FoF until years later, when I bought a hardcover copy at the Smith College Book Sale. It is, of course, much less tawdry, but also less memorable, more dated — busy, coorful, overdone. (I’d pull it from my bookshelves but that would be a) cheating and b) impossible, as the cover deteriorated over time.)
I’ve always liked mass market paperback covers, especially when they’re wildly inappropriate. My favorite is from the cover of a Shirley Jackson anthology, one that includes “The Lottery.” But the cover stresses instead a story called “The Demon Lover” and features a redhead with a frantic look and a green dress with a plunging neckline.
(This one I did check, but after writing the above, per the rules. Here’s what I got wrong: The cover states: The Lottery and then, in slightly smaller print, The Adventures of a Demon Lover. The dress may have been green once, but it now appears to be a dark blue, faded by time and exposure to the sun. I was right about the hair, the expression and the neckline. I didn’t recall that the illustration is meant, in fact, to represent the end of the title story.
This is how memory works — it fades, it embroiders, it misses details, key and meaningless. I know I bought this book at the Flower Mart, a Baltimore tradition that happens to fall this week. Most people buy lemon halves with peppermint sticks, or plants for their gardens. I scour the boxes of used paperbacks. My memory strains for other books I’ve purchased there over the years. Something by Wallace Stegner, I’m pretty sure. And suddenly, I’m a little melancholy, for reasons I suspect, but don’t wish to share.
But that’s how it works: Find the memory, and you’ll find the emotion. The question is — are the emotions subject to the same frailties as the memories? Can they, too, be wrong in the details, big and small, meaningless and key?)