I wrote about Ingeborg Day and the two memoirs she published during her lifetime — GHOST WALTZ, in 1980, and, two years earlier, NINE AND A HALF WEEKS, under the pseudonym Elizabeth McNeill — for the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. Naturally, the hook is in the headline: who was the real woman, the true identity, behind the erotic memoir that documented a brief, intense affair of increasing domination and humiliation with an unnamed lover? Certainly that the question that sprang to my mind earlier this year, idly wondering about other, earlier examples of erotica not long after FIFTY SHADES OF GREY took off with sonic boom-like force.
But the question, and the reveal, is something of a trojan horse. Over the course of the summer and early fall, off-and-on between other projects, I found the answer hiding in plain sight. But knowing “McNeill” was really Day led to more questions. More blind alleys. And a book, GHOST WALTZ, that disturbed me far more than NINE AND A HALF WEEKS ever did. I certainly hadn’t bargained on comparing and contrasting a coolly related tale of BDSM (with some dark humor shot through) and an obsessive, recursive account of a father’s never-discussed Nazi past. Add a dead child, some years spent as an editor at Ms. Magazine, literary acclaim and controversy, and you can start to see why I couldn’t let this story go. There are even a few late-game twists, to boot.
I still don’t quite know what to make of Ingeborg Seiler Day. I’m not certain she knew. But she revealed herself with these two books in ways most writers can’t even contemplate. She had a voice and syntax wholly her own. Sadly, those two books are all we’ll ever get. But what books they are. And hopefully, HarperCollins will reissue NINE AND A HALF WEEKS and GHOST WALTZ under Day’s true name very soon.