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Molly Jong-Fast isn't afraid to fly

By Camille Dodero

JULY 31, 2000: 

Normal Girl by Molly Jong-Fast (Villard), 195 pages, $21.95.

"Children of celebrities are like communism -- better in concept than in practice," muses 21-year-old Molly Jong-Fast in her debut novel, Normal Girl.

Coming from a girl whose mother's quarter-of-a-century-old literary skin is still taut enough to earn her a nod in the lyrics of Bob Dylan's Time out of Mind (and in one of Regis's final answers), that's one firestorm of self-criticism. But the lofty expectations imposed upon a second-gen celeb are inescapable and cruel and often ignite harsh self-critiques -- especially if you're the daughter of a controversial feminist icon.

Progeny of Fear of Flying author Erica Jong and sci-fi scribe Jonathan Fast, Molly Jong-Fast is no stranger to self-loathing. In a piece she penned for Mode magazine about her struggle with bulimia, she recalls being 13, weighing 200 pounds, and having her mother drag her out to lunch with former Dynasty villainess Joan Collins: "Joan and my mom started talking about visiting Valentino's yacht. I asked if I could come along. Joan said I was too fat to go on Valentino's yacht."

It's in this savagely exclusive world -- a place where body fat rescinds invitations, chin tucks are life support, and the avant-garde is already obsolete -- that Jong-Fast posits the protagonist of Normal Girl. Daughter of semi-famous parents, 19-year-old Miranda Woke is a seen-it-all scenester whose place in NYC's hip coterie has logged her on Page Six 16 times. But as Miranda'll admit, speedy living has afforded her more than just name-checks in a tabloid: "I'm a crazy cocaine addict with a hankering for heroin, but other than that, I'm just a nice Jewish girl from the Upper East Side with Prada shoes." When she's not fiending for blow, Miranda's quaffing martinis, dosing Diazepam, and soaking up her own nosebleeds. Give her a joint and she'll smoke it. Offer her a homeless man's fifth of Wild Turkey and she'll finish it. Show her a vacant house and she'll freebase in it.

But within this Bright Lights, Big City-scape, buffet-style drug tastings have a closing time. Miranda's last call comes when her ex-boyfriend Brett finds her bloody, belligerent, and blaspheming trashbags on a street corner. He carts her home and she almost dies. The next day her jet-setting mom ships Miranda off to rehab in Minnesota.

Familiar terrain for Jong-Fast, whose teenage riot sentenced her to detox before she turned 20. Her experience with cognitive chaos shows: Miranda's narration is a sine wave of consciousness, pulsating with dopamine showers, dipsomaniac ravings, and sobering dawns. True to the fragmented recollections of chemical overindulgence, nights break off, memories lapse, and after-hours trickles into afternoon. Jong-Fast's point here isn't to condemn narcotics completely; if it were, she wouldn't make the highs seem so liberating. Rather, she's commenting on the kind of false and superficial thinking that deems obsession with such vices normal. Near the beginning of the book Miranda says, "I just want to look normal. There is nothing wrong with me, no internal crisis that a Xanax couldn't reconcile."

On Erica Jong's Web site (www.ericajong.com), there's a New York Post article from 1997 that mentions how a pestering journalist needled Jong-Fast at one of her mother's readings about what it's like to have a mom who's been dubbed the "Queen of Erotica." When the reporter posed the question, "How many men has your mother slept with?", the 18-year-old quipped back, "Do you know how many men your mother has slept with?"

Jong-Fast's knack for clever repartee punctuates the pages of Normal Girl. When a fellow New Yorker asks Miranda in rehab, "Did you know Dina Kahn, my Jewish friend?", she stifles, "Of course I know your Jewish friend because all Jewish people in New York are friends, and we all go to this room where we control the banks and the media."

That quick-on-the-draw flip of the bird is the only thing distancing Miranda from total assimilation into the mindlessly privileged. She's a smart girl in a synthetic world, but though she's sickened by its unctuous ass-kisses, designer labels, and intellectual lethargy, she's also complicit in all three. "I don't read books very often," Miranda comments. "No one in my family reads or thinks. They'd get a headache, reach for the Advil, trip on their twelve-thousand dollar Birkin handbag, and smash their heads into their Sub-Zero refrigerators."

Normal Girl does retread the urban territory claimed by Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, but Jong-Fast is smart enough to know she's not the first to sketch the psyche behind glamorous excess, rampant drug abuse, and consequential demise. So when a minor character named Whit tells Miranda, "It's hard to muster up any sympathy for someone like you. Rich kids who blow their lives on drugs. God, Randa. You're not even at the very least original," it's clear that Jong-Fast is tipping her hand, letting you know she knows that this has been done before, but reminding you that, as she can attest, it's still being done. And it's not normal.

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