fear of dying jong

Forty years ago, Fear of Flying made Erica Jong (and her protagonist Isadora Wing) household names, along with the infamous concept of the Zipless Fuck. In this not-exactly-a-sequel, Isadora is back as the sidekick to the protagonist Vanessa Wonderman, a past-her-prime actress who is coping with her husband’s illness, her parents’ aging, and her own confrontation with mortality. Vanessa suggests, “we all secretly believe in our own mortality” and ask “Do we hold on to our parents, or are we holding on to our status as children who are immune from death?” She recognizes that “it doesn’t matter how old they are. You are never prepared to lose your parents.”

As Vanessa copes with the specifics of the issues surrounding her parents and somewhat older husband, she reflects on many issues, including what aging means for women: “A man can look like he’s a hundred, be impotent and night blind, and still find a younger woman who never got over her daddy. But a woman is lucky to be able to go to the movies or bingo with another old bag.” So, she goes onto the Internet site “zipless” to meet someone with whom she can have a no-strings hookup (with some amusing results as she meets the various men who respond to her online quest).

Along the way, there are some great lines as Vanessa/Erica muses about life’s journey:

  • “Death is always here in life yet willed invisible because we cannot bear it any more than we can bear news that our sun will someday go out.”
  • Once you have entered the hospital’s mythic maw, your life is no longer your own…everyone knows something but you—and if you protest you will know even less”
  • “When babies spend their days waking and sleeping, we’re not sad because we know their lives are going forward. Bout an old person’s slipping in and out of sleep is only a warm-up for extinction. We know it. Do they know it? And if they know, do they care?”
  • “You don’t really become aware of the body until its beautiful balance breaks down.”
  • “What was wrong with my generation of women? We thought we would get better and better forever…believed we had charmed lives somehow and that there was nothing Botox couldn’t fix”

Those are pretty reflective of Erica — I mean Vanessa’s state of mind. 

It’s a story about a particular fictional woman, but I believe it’s also all about Erica and her thoughts on aging, relationships, fidelity (or lack thereof), and women’s roles in relation to men, each other, work, sex, etc.

I didn’t love it, like I did Fear of Flying – but it’s definitely entertaining and thought-provoking (perhaps particularly for fans of both Jed earlier fiction and her poetry. I appreciate the opportunity to review this for NetGalley. Four stars!