Yes, yes, I’m a big boring fan of feminist literature. There’s a part of me that could have been a gender studies major in college, but I wasn’t, I was an English major who got way into Virginia Woolf. It surprised me too. On the canon of what to read when it comes to women’s lit you’ll find names like Andrea Dworkin, Collette, Gloria Steinem, and probably somewhere you’ll run into the likes of Erica Jong and the novel, Fear of Flying. And you should read Fear of Flying – but that’s hard to talk or write about without going over the inappropriate line that is invisible but always inevitably there. But for the sake of introductions let’s say Fear of Flying is about one woman’s salacious awakening and Fear of Dying is the possibility that getting older and closer to death might be signaled by one thing: the end of your so-called salacious life.
The female lead in this book is Vanessa Wonderman. Isadore Wing from Fear of Flying is the very good wise friend of Vanessa who makes some appearances but is hardly close to a main character. Vanessa is in her sixties, her parents are dying, her husband has ‘issues’, even her dog is getting older. She had been an actress but don’t we all know what Hollywood does with older women? Vanessa puts an ad out – sort of a Craigslist casual encounter, but cannot follow through with any of it. She visits her mother and father as they descend into death, and soon her husband is in the hospital as well. Vanessa Wonderman is bored with herself, scared of all of the death around her and wondering if everyone dies with unfinished business. Being that these are the three central characters in Vanessa’s life, her emotional wrangling with each brings out the human side of her that is easily relatable. Everyone is going to meet the fate you expect them to meet but it’s good to hear it spoken of. It’s good to read the agreeable and disagreeable points on what it means to be alive from a woman’s perspective and in the voice that Jong brings to us.
Erica Jong is still writing a feminist book. Although throughout reading Fear of Dying I was trying to find Jong’s response to being called a feminist writer. I’m not sure I found it, though she seems to want to edit some of the ideas she put out in the seventies, she has that right. Aging, I think, gives you that authority over your own life, and I think Jong would agree with me on that.