How did I not hear that Erica Jong’s 10th novel Fear of Dying has been out since September? In 1973 when I was 28 and single in New York City, her Fear of Flying was pivotal to my professional development as a sex educator, writer and more importantly my search for intimacy for four decades. Henry Miller requested she do a biography of him before he died! Back then my single and divorced girlfriends and I used it to validate our own ‘zipless fucks’ as we hunted that significant equal who we would get back from as much as we gave, and forgave ourselves for those connections however short that didn’t. Her unabashed sexual positivity revolutionized the way many women look at love marriage and sex. Isadora Wing her hardly disguised protagonist helped me fathom the depths of numerous “mis-matches made in heaven,” some that lasted for years, others a single night.
Now 71, I found myself disliking the novel’s narrator in Fear of Dying. Vanessa is a friend Isadora’s, a 60 something television actress with a billionaire husband 20 years her senior. He just survived an aneurism, healing slowly at first. She’s a television actress with a daughter and grandson. But for my tastes she was just too rich, too Jewish (forgive me), too horny, and too sex centered. During her husband’s early recovery she pursues ziplessfuck.com and even beds an old actor boyfriend but chickens out at the last moment. Me this once cutting edge radical feminist, hoped Erica had realized by now the shortcomings of our ‘if it feels good do it era.’ Witnessing her get through the death of her father and then her mother warmed my heart to her, and then as good character’s do, she arced, by the end finally realizing “I had needed sex so much I didn’t realize it was different from love.” Well, duh! She meets that former lover and his wife on a supremely high class trip to India and realizes ‘there was no longer any chemistry between us and our partners knew it.”
It is finally about death that Isadora aka Jong is most profound. “I’ve always believed ancestor worship is the oldest religion. Parental voices in our heads are the strongest prayers. The dead live within us. We keep them alive. They never die.” “It’s all about fear of dying,” she opens her speech to a conference, “we just keep making up different philosophies to deal with our fear. And it’s all so ridiculous because once we’re dead we are utterly fearless. Death is fearlessness. It is the anticipation of our dying that’s the problem.”
I loved what she said about writing quoting Thomas Mann, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. I knew Isadora wanted to be read, as we all want to be read. Words can defeat death. Most books turn to dust like most people – but a few of them remain – sometimes only in fragments. Never mind. Even those fragments can fly.” Thank you Erica for moving me to believe someone(s) will read and remember my very own words.
In summary she realizes as my memoir does: “When I was with Ash I was never lonely. That was what sex with strangers promised but could not deliver. I now thought I must’ve been crazy to seek intimacy there.” Well about time my friend Erica Jong. Now you sound your/our age.