When I had the opportunity to receive a review copy of a book of essays about women and sex edited by Erica Jong I couldn’t say no. Jong’s name is synonymous with feminism and sex thanks to her book Fear of Flying and I figured Sugar in My Bowl, while not my usual fare, would at least be an interesting detour. And it was.
The book is made up of mostly essays but some short stories too, about women and sex. Most of the essays are about the best sex the author ever had. As you can imagine, some give all the details and others are a bit more restrained. The authors range from young to old and include the likes of Fay Weldon, Susan Cheever, Anne Roiphe, Eve Ensler, and Susie Bright.
Some of the essays are filled with humor, like Julie Klam describing the experience of her first “night of passion” as a “Saint-Bernard-style make-out session.” I found this hilarious because, well, I could relate, having made out with a Saint-Bernard once myself (there was also the guy who seemed to be desperately searching for my tonsils but I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d never find them since I had them out when I was two). And Fay Weldon slipping into something more comfortable which turned out to be a sage green wool dressing gown. But I laughed hardest I think at J.A.K. Anders writing about learning that her six-year-old daughter, Callie, was a “diddler” and how, one morning at breakfast her daughter announced that she had named her vagina “Cho Cho.” In response, one of Callie’s older brothers spewed milk all over his toast and the other said, “Cho Cho? That’s a weird name. Our first baseman calls his wiener Big Frank.”
Not all of the essays are funny. Jean Hanff Korelitz writes about the erotic novel she wrote when she was first starting out as a writer and not getting anywhere. The novel is still in print and she still gets the occasional royalty check from it. She wrote it under a pseudonym and even now she has gotten along in her career writing regular fiction, she is too embarrassed and concerned about backlash to reveal her pseudonym or the title of the book.
Then there is Linda Gray Sexton who admits the best sex she ever had involved erotic asphyxiation. She and her lover eventually parted ways and she had not heard from him for years until one day he called her up and wanted to get together and catch up. She is thinking back to the great sex they had had and is wondering if catching up would involve more, when Steven reveals that he had sex reassignment surgery and is now Stephanie. Sadly, Sexton is unable to accept the change, begs off getting together and never speaks to Steven/Stephanie again.
Erica Jong’s daughter, Molly, also has an essay. In it she talks about what it was like growing up with Erica Jong as a mother and how it is she, Molly, turned out to be rather conservative and traditional in her sexual relationships. The Guardian has a recent interview with mother and daughter that is entertaining and somewhat irreverent.
I enjoyed reading Sugar in My Bowl. Was it a great book? No. But it was definitely entertaining and kind of like gossiping about sex with your girlfriends. Which is to say, it is shocking, a relief, embarrassing, funny, intimate, and leaves one with a sense of friendship and camaraderie.