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NONFICTION

WOMEN ON TOP How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies by Nancy Friday ( Simon & Schuster: $22; 460 pp.) . It must be fun to be Nancy Friday’s postal worker (I must be extremely careful, given the subject, not to slip and say mailman), delivering missives from all over the country about that most private of private acts, the sexual fantasy. This is a companion volume, of sorts, to Friday’s 1973 “My Secret Garden,” but the news, as the title suggests, is that women’s fantasies have become more aggressive. We take charge. In case you need to be convinced (or titillated), Friday offers evidence, chapter upon chapter of graphic evidence, fantasy upon fantasy, until each sentence begins to seem like soft-core Novocain, deadening our receptors to the point of numbness. If you repeat an obscenity over and over again, it loses its ability to shock; so with the often impossibly coy references to who did what to whom and what size it was.

What emerges, sadly, is a sense not so much of strength but of despair: So many of these women are not victors, but merely victims with overhauled imaginations. They fantasize, often about the unattainable object of their desire, to escape a miserable marriage, a dormant relationship, an abusing husband or a drug-hazed life--to propel themselves out of the real world, where they still feel trapped. Friday can put as brave a face on it as she wants to, but her book inadvertently highlights the stranglehold this society still has on the majority of women. Daydreams are nice; the awakening, for too many of Friday’s subjects, is still very rude.


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