In Erica Jong’s Fear of Dying, former actress Vanessa Wonderman is coming to terms with many of life’s mysteries as a woman in her 60’s. Vanessa is facing a lackluster sex life with her own elderly husband, caring for her dying parents and undergoing shifts that humans all have to face as time continues on. Vanessa decides to sign up for a website seeking sex as a “happily married woman” but life and those she meets often have other plans.
The site, called Zipless, leads Vanessa to some interesting characters, but their inclusion in the novel doesn’t really seems to blossom or fit. Instead, it fills just another dimension to show the importance of sexuality lost at any age. Much of the sex talk will be lost on younger readers who may not be able to relate to Vanessa and her issues at this stage of her life or even want to read it. I think that the importance in the story lies in Vanessa’s handling of aging, life changing, how she views memory and the importance of every relationship, no matter what.
Vanessa is tough to engage with as a main character as she jets between moments of wise, profound observations to quickly seeming like an out of touch billionaire’s wife who never thought any of this could happen to her. Vanessa seems to be scrambling amidst her tragedies and changes, but the sex site sign up and her selfish behavior makes it less sympathetic. Jong’s prose about Vanessa’s parents and lessons they taught their daughters was a highlight and a beautiful glimpse into previous lives of the elderly that once shined. Isadora, Vanessa’s best friend, a writer, provided insightful and wise dialogue, but it wasn’t enough to carry the novel all the way through.
Erica Jong is an excellent writer; her story is full of poignant words, tender moments and careful, not overabundant descriptions. The book moves quickly, as does much of life, but Vanessa stands in her own way as well as the readers. There are insightful moments on life, love, dying and aging, but the importance and influence gets lost against the background
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.