The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff. Tongues intertwined and turned liquid. Your whole soul flowed out through your tongue and into the mouth of your lover.
For the true, ultimate zipless A-1 fuck, it was necessary that you never get to know the man very well. I had noticed, for example, how all my infatuations dissolved as soon as I really became friends with a man, became sympathetic to his problems, listened to him kvetch about his wife, or ex-wives, his mother, his children. After that I would like him, perhaps even love him—but without passion. (11)
In the opening chapter of Hart's Flying, we meet Stella, who seems to have achieved in actuality what Jong's Isadora could only fantasize about. In her twenties, Stella "had taught herself how to be sexy for a man," but now knows "it was so much better to be sexy for herself" (10). Stella's form of sexy is to dress in provocative clothes, fly to a random airport using the free tickets that were part of her divorce settlement from her airline CEO ex, tempt a suitable man in said airport's bar, and take him to a hotel room:
This is what she likes, what she craves. This is what she wants. Being wanted so much he'll do anything, finger her in a hotel doorway, maybe fuck her right there, not caring about anything but getting his cock inside her.... She wants to hold nothing back. Because this is what Stella really wants and craves and needs and seeks. This naked, somehow desperate connection of two people who don't even known each other's last names, but who each knows exactly how the other tastes. (21)
It's quite a shock when Chapter 2 opens with the word "Mom," and we discover that sexy Stella is a mother of a sixteen-year-old boy, a forty-something woman with a dull job, baskets full of laundry, and an ex-husband who shies away from all hints of responsibility beyond the monetary. Popular media warns incessantly about the college-aged girls being sucked into the faceless hook-up culture, but Hart shakes us out of our assumptions about who might want mindless sex, who can take pleasure from it, who has enough confidence to insist that "Her pleasure is hers. Not his." (107).
But there's more to the zipless fuck than pure anonymity. As Jong's Isadora imagines it,
The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not "taking" and the woman is not "giving." No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one. (14)
For Stella, flying is complicated, ambiguous, complex, both a coming alive and a killing off: a "coming out of the dark and into the light, if only for a little while" (56); an "agony" she both "loves and craves" (22); each lover's "scrutiny" the punishment she "deserves" (22). Though she "should feel pity" for these broken men she tempts, she's "unable to find any. Something's cold in her. And broken. But it's her own fault, she supposes, for picking men she knows are already damaged because it feels easier to justify breaking them" (108). Stella isn't good at opening up emotionally, nor is she any good at letting things go, an impossible combination for a person with trauma in her past, a trauma that is gradually revealed through Stella's "flights," her recollections of Craig, the man whose lack of knowledge about the tragedy she'd experienced makes him far more attractive to her than her husband, and her memories of how, eight years earlier, her marriage eventually came to an end.
Stella's story shifts mid-book, from dark erotica to—what? For the longest time, I wasn't sure if Hart was asking me to transition into an erotic romance, or a work of women's fiction. In Chicago, on the way home from a real business trip, dressed not as a sexy siren but in slim-cut jeans, a stretched-out oversized cardigan, and cotton granny pants, Stella meets Matthew, another divorced parent with as much baggage as Stella carries. Before she realizes it, she's telling him her name, sharing a drink, and, when bad weather cancels her flight, accepting his offer to leave the airport bar with him and spend the night at his place. The evening feels more like a date than a hook-up, and almost doesn't end with sex at all, Matthew awkward and unsure, it being his first post-divorce experience. But Stella is relieved when Matthew overcomes his reluctance, and the familiarity of "flying" one again takes hold: "Desire had become the one true constant in her life, the only feeling she could count on never to disappoint her. Desire required nothing from her. No investment. No responsibility. All desire wanted was to be sated. It was physical, and therefore could be killed" (138).
Yet after sating her desire, Stella finds herself answering the question that Matthew asks, the one none of her other hookups have bothered with: where did she get her scars? Sharing that answer proves a catalyst for Stella, a first hint that perhaps the cold inside her can begin to thaw. She begins to build a relationship with Matthew, traveling to Chicago every other week not only for fabulous sex, but for movies and outings and snuggles on the couch. But Matthew never offers to come to Pennsylvania to visit Stella, and seems embarrassed to introduce her to his children, or even mention the fact that he's dating again to his rather clingy ex-wife. And why does he like to hang out at the airport bar, anyways? Is Stella the only one whose relationship to "flying" is more complex than it seems?
Will Matthew turn out to be a temporary stepping-stone on the way to a healthier, happier Stella, now able to accept a more mature love from former crush Craig (women's fiction)? Will Stella return to "flying" after breaking up with Matthew, able to finally enjoy a truly zipless fuck without pain or guilt after working through some of her darker issues (erotica/erotic romance)? Or will Matthew prove himself worthy of Stella's love with a suitably grand and sexy gesture, one that will erase all the doubts his prior less-than-honest behavior have engendered (romance)?
Up to the very end, I wasn't sure which direction Hart would take. And I'm not entirely sure I'm satisfied with the choice she finally made.
But I'm also not sure how satisfied she wants me to be with it, either. Or perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part...
Would love to hear others' thoughts about Flying, especially about its ending.
Megan Hart, Flying