Erica Jong's new book has echoes of her most famous novel, 1973's Fear of Flying — which invited women to be as avid for sex and as delighted with it as men are.
The new book is called Fear of Dying (small spoiler alert: Everyone does not end up dead at the end), and Jong tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that the book was originally called Happily Married Woman, and it was about a happily married woman whose husband is much older, and not well — so the subtitle was Fear of Dying. "When I turned it in to my publisher, they said, 'That is the title of the book.' It was not my working title. However, it does make a nice trilogy: Fear of Flying, Fear of Fifty, Fear of Dying."
On heroine Vanessa Wonderman, a glamorous 60-ish actress, and her billionaire husband
He's 20 years older, or more. And Vanessa, who's always been a beauty, who men have loved, suddenly finds herself living in a life without sex. She wants to embrace life — her parents are dying, her husband may be dying, she wants to embrace life. So she goes to a website called Zipless, and she looks up people she can meet for sex. And the fantasy is she will find sex without strings attached. In fact, she finds a selection of lunatics.
Actually, I thought it was essential to do it, because sex follows us throughout our lives. The need for touch, the need for connection, that never goes away. But the forms of it change. As people age, touch is more important, erections are less important. And I think somebody needs to write about that.
On the shared experience of baby boomers
We were the generation that was never going to get old, right? We were entitled to sex, success, you know, everything. And our parents adored us and made us feel that we were entitled to everything. And now, seeing their decrepitude, and our own creeping changes — if not yet decrepitude — makes us think, God, we were promised something better than this! And it makes for a lot of humor, I think.
On death and writing the end of the book
I was so worried about it. And I thought of so many different endings. As indeed with Fear of Flying, the end was the hardest to write. And yet I always knew that Fear of Dying would end in India, because India is a place of transformation, a place where Vanessa comes to peace with the cycles of life.
When my husband read the book, he said, "It's a love story with a happy ending." So it is dark and it is light, it is satirical and it is sad — like all my books, I think. Like all my poems.