How many of us grew up in some ways with Erica Jong and Fear of Flying? For me, coming back to Erica Jong felt a bit like hearing a song from your college days on the radio; it brings back memories that make you happy, maybe just because you were younger then.
Indeed, it’s hard to feel like you have left the Seventies when you are reading this book. It even includes, in the plot, a trip to India to gain enlightenment.
Fear of Dying is narrated by Vanessa Wonderman, a 60-year-old former actress dealing with some difficult issues: a daughter who is struggling with substance abuse problems and suicidal tendencies; dying parents; and a husband who is 25 years older and no longer much of a sexual partner. Being surrounded by all these signs of aging and death makes Vanessa almost desperate to affirm life. She feels “despondent, deranged, depressed.” She muses about how as you get older, many people who have been a part of your life start dying off:
“It gets harder and harder to deny your own death. Do we hold on to our parents, or are we holding on to our status as children who are immune from death?”
“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.”
She loves her husband Asher, but has been experimenting with the website “zipless.com,” trying to find someone with whom to have sex. So far, all the men she has encountered are weirdos and/or perverts.
Eventually, Vanessa finds a way to absorb all the changes in her life in an ending that seemed a bit over the top to me. In any event, it felt to me like the plot was mostly an excuse to riff on letting go of fear of death and learning to focus on living and enjoying the moment.
Evaluation: This book has gotten mixed reviews, and I would agree there are both good and disappointing aspects to it. Nevertheless, I’m glad I read it; there is much I could relate to, and moments of insight and humor that made the book worth reading.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, 2015