I'M NOT THE RIGHT MALE for this review: My idea of a sexual fantasy is to be sitting in a room reading a good book, when a beautiful woman enters, and says, "Hello." The book I'd be reading would not be Men in Love: Men's Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage, nor would the woman be Nancy Friday, who, while not quite beautiful, has a face that smacks of beauty. That face is to be observed in a publicity photo for her book, where sits Friday, mischievously intellectual, hunching over a wood-framed photo of herself (presumably) and groom, he all smiles in Navy whites, she haloed in a hat of straw and bearing either a huge bouquet or a backwards peacock. The pair poses before an apocalypse of greens, as if in Eden.
Eden this book is not, unless you're thinking of Sir Anthony Eden, and that is not out of the question. His voice comes to mind every time Friday presents her psychoanalytical commentaries on one of the fantasies she records -- not because she says the sorts of things a British prime minister would say, but rather because her remarks are in such highfalutin contrast to the tidbits that elicit them. Worry not; Men in love is just as dirty as you'd hope. But it is also deeply curious, thanks largely to the lady in the photograph, who, I believe, is the ifrst 20th-century author since James Joyce to find sex surprising.
In fact, compared with Friday, the fantasies themselves are close to boring, given the finitude of human parts, of what may be placed where. To be sure there are singularities: the man who imagines that he's Victor Laszlo (of Casablanca) on a submarine with an all-girl crew, on another planet, for instance; and the fellow who seeks to give haircuts to three women -- an act which, while barbarous, is still a cut above "Paul," who wishes to display his affection for a St. Bernard. Then there is "Bernard," no saint, who identifies himself as a "urinology devotee" and "diaper fetishist," and "Al," who would like to do several things to a women's rowing team or Tupperware party. These boys do go on.
On the whole, however, the fantasies offer the usual -- the whips, cows, leather jump suits and I. Miller pumps we orinarily assocaite with love.
A bit curiouser is the compulsion of the various fantasizers to begin their fantasies by stating their most stolid biographical facts: somber announcements of advanced degrees followed by an onrush of dildos. One fellow starts out by describing himself as an out-of-state pharmacy student. The essential curiousness, of course, is that these people wished to spill the dildos to Nancy in the first place. And while there is a circular logic at work that only people who would harbor some of these fantasies would want to exhibit them, there still is something bizarre about their candor. Which brings us to the Mother Confessor.
Now, Nancy Friday is a very silly writer, but she is also very clever and very strange. Her cleverness is her gimmick. At the end of several of her books, which are made up of the sexual adventures of her readers, she appends an invitation to yet more readers to send her yet more sexual adventures. She does that at the end of Men in love: "Nancy Friday invites both men and women to contribute to her ongoing research on sexual identity," and to "please be as specific as possible." The little devil.
As for her silliness, it consists, as you'd expect, of conventional hymns to freedom and modernity, along with sighs of relief that the up-tight are finally leting their hang-ups hang out. Yet Friday is not an ordinary thinker. She poses problems one encounters nowhere else, such as: "How many make a group? If three is a trio, is four a group, or does it take 10 to make an orgy?" She decries the injustice that teen-age girls are admired for their "burgeoning breasts," whereas teen-age boys must conceal their own burgeonings. She makes unusual rational connections, as between the fact that 50 percent of the electorate do not vote in presidental elections, and the other fact that certain men like to watch women urinate on themselves. Says Nancy: "Fellatio seems to be more of an acquired taste." You won't even find that in Joyce.
Yet it is Friday's attitude toward her own book that makes for its oddest element. Clearly, openly, she is overwhelmed with the knowledge that she dared to write the book, that she had the "courage" to break through the painted egg shells of her won innate ladyhood in order to first stomach, then clean up on, the ravings of such wild and crazy guys. "This book is one of my efforts to grow up," she declares at the outset, repeating this startling assertion in various forms throughout the text. Interspersed among the fantasies, like a fantasy itself, are the effects the fantasies have had on her. And darned, if several of the fantasies don't involve Friday directly. "Eliot," whose real-life experiences include a 55-year-old woman in a dog collar and leash, dreams of Nancy "aflame with desire," begging Eliot for a whipping.
According to Friday, "fantasies like Eliot's illustrate men's ultimate love/rage polarization." For my part, I'd call the police. But there is something about Friday's authorial personality that encourages playful boys like Eliot to show their stuff. That publicity photo; it is not just a picture, it's a stance. What Friday is saying in the photograph she is also saying in the book; that is, "I'm respectable as hell, but oh, I understand." Davey," whose fantasy is to French kiss, adds a P.S.: "If you only knew how hard it was for me to write this." Before her closing appeal for material, Friday writes: "I have read your P.S., Davey, and I know." If I were the sort of psychologist Nancy Friday is, I'd venture the thought that Men in love is a come-on, the work of a demure voyeur.
Well, read it anyway. You won't have to dog-ear the pages. And the book fits almost perfectly in the jacket of The letters of Flaubert.