Erica Jong: super famous and revolutionary writer, whom until now, I had never read. I saw that her latest novel, Fear of Dying, was available on NetGalley, so I sent in a review request. Thank You to St. Martin's Press for allowing me the opportunity to review Jong's novel, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT - Vanessa Wonderman is in her early 60's and death seems to be surrounding her. Both of her parents are on hospice, her older husband has had a major heath-scare and she finds herself lamenting her fading youth, both her looks and her ability to find sexual satisfaction. She realizes that although actual death is beyond her control, she can get plastic surgery and have love affairs to regain her youth. Will these solutions allow Vanessa to find satisfaction or can she accept life's changes as she grows closer to death?
LIKE - Jong has come up in many sociology, history and literature classes that I've taken. She's also a pop-culture icon. Although she is my mother's generation, I've been keen to read her. It may have been backwards to read Fear of Dying, before Fear of Flying, as the characters cross-over, but the latest novel, also works as a stand alone story.
The first half of the story, which primarily deals with Vanessa processing the impending deaths of both of her parents and potentially her husband, is very well-crafted. Although I'm much younger than Vanessa, I've had to deal with caring for dying relatives and both her reactions and emotions rang very honest. Vanessa is not a saintly character in the slightest and she is very blunt about her unease around her parent's death, especially the physical decline of the human body. Vanessa's honesty is a double-edged sword. It made me feel that she was rendered realistically, but it also made me dislike and disconnect from her. She may feel like a real person, but she is narcissistic and not someone that you would want to know.
Vanessa's perspective, as someone who is caught between still feeling and looking (somewhat) young and beautiful, yet who is also seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, made for a compelling scenario. Jong has many wonderfully stated passages about age, aging as a woman and death, that add poignancy to Fear of Dying.
DISLIKE - The story went downhill in the last half. I found the idea that Vanessa would seek an online affair to be compelling, especially in light of the recent Ashley Madison scandal, however other than a few messy dates, this plot line crumbled. It wasn't clear what Vanessa was trying to achieve. Maybe she didn't even know? The story devolved into rambling philosophical passages and very graphic sex talk.
Let's talk about the sex in Fear of Dying. I'm not a prude at all, but the sex in this story was pushing the envelope. It was sheerly for shock value. I wanted to know more about Vanessa's emotions and internal conflicts, rather than her exploits or sex fantasies. It was unnecessarily graphic. I don't have to read Fear of Flying to know that Jong shocked readers back in the 1970's. It takes more to shock the modern audience for Fear of Dying, making the "shocks" seem like a desperate move. The story simply didn't need it. Less would have been more.
Fear of Dying felt more non-fiction than fiction. It reads like a biography, which may be a storytelling positive, as it has a very clear, strong voice. On the flip side, the reason why it felt non-fction was the rambling thoughts that disconnected me from the story.
RECOMMEND - I found Fear of Dying to be very messy, with an unlikeable protagonist, but with the occasional profound observation. If you're a fan of Jong, you'll definitely want to read this. It also likely to be a bestseller, so you might want to read it to join in the water cooler conversation.