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Fear of Dying: A Novel Hardcover – September 8, 2015
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“How Erica is able to deal with all these sensitive issues and still make the book funny is amazing. I loved reading it.” ―Woody Allen
“Erica Jong has done it again! Fear of Dying is a big, bawdy, beautifully-written romp through online hookups, female friendships, children grappling with adulthood and parents negotiating with death. Fear of Dying is big, warm-hearted, generous book that will satisfy Jong's longtime fans and delight her new readers.” ―Jennifer Weiner
“Moving and deeply poetic, Fear of Dying is a compelling novel that truly understands the process of aging. With astonishing images on every page, Erica Jong gives us a veiled spiritual autobiography with an unstoppable quality, a narrative momentum that held me from first to last as it seamlessly unfolds from Jong's previous work, yet with sharp new edge, giving us a wise book, a book to savor.” ―Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and Why Poetry Matters
“Erica Jong has written a whip-smart, insightful, hilarious and ridiculously relatable new novel, Fear of Dying. In her latest novel, Jong revisits and renovates her old haunts. Destined to be called an instant classic, I could not put this stunning book down. In 1973, Fear of Flying was the book we needed; now the book we need is Fear of Dying.” ―Julie Klam, bestselling author of Friendkeeping and You Had Me at Woof
“Erica Jong fans, rejoice! Her new novel, the cleverly and aptly titled Fear of Dying, is a truth-teller's dream. In it, Jong and her alter egos face life's most difficult challenges, head on and all at once. As the great poet William Butler Yeats wrote, "the only two things worth writing about are sex and death," and in Fear of Dying, Jong takes on both. Along the way, she also tells the story of a marriage that grows happier despite all. This wise book, written in prose gorgeous enough to make one swoon, will delight and enrich the lives of everyone who reads it.” ―Rosemary Daniell, award-winning author of Secrets of the Zona Rosa: How Writing (and Sisterhood) Can Change Women’s Lives
About the Author
ERICA JONG is a poet, novelist, and essayist, best known for her eight New York Times bestselling novels, including Fear of Flying (which has sold twenty-seven million copies in forty languages) and Fear of Fifty. Ms. Jong is also the author of seven award-winning collections of poetry. Her latest, Love Comes First, was released by Tarcher-Penguin in January 2009. In addition, Jong has written several nonfiction books. Her work has appeared all over the world.
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The one thing I remember most about FEAR OF FLYING was what happened when Isadora finally found herself in a position to experience the "zipless ****." Instead of leaping into it with open arms, she rebuffed the stranger's advances, realizing only much later that she had missed her chance. In FEAR OF DYING, Vanessa is a former soap opera actress who has had many zipless experiences, as well as countless "zipped-up" ones. She's been married several times, had an abundance of lovers, and sees herself as a sexually free woman. She's also super wealthy, as is her billionaire husband. But as she watches her parents grow weaker and weaker in their final months of life, it's sex she hopes will save her from the "fear of dying." She runs an ad on a fantasy sex website. She contacts former lovers. What does she want, Jong asks? "I wanted sex to prove that I would never die," Vanessa says.
Like Vanessa and Isadora (and like Erica Jong), I've changed a lot in the past 40-plus years. What titillated and intrigued me in 1973 doesn't quite do the same today. I, too, am dealing with the end of my parents' lives. Like Vanessa's Asher, my own husband has health issues that threaten to cut short his life. And my own beloved cat (like Vanessa's dog, Belinda) is showing signs that her life, too, may be nearing its end. It's all very hard, and very real, and very much a part of all of our lives. But I can't quite identify with Vanessa's delight in sexual dalliances, her love of sexually charged words I can't imagine using in casual speech, or her conviction that through orgasm she can immunize herself against death. The novel's first line is, "I used to love the power I had over men," which is all about sex. By the end, however, Vanessa realizes that "We give [sex] much more power than it perhaps deserves."
I loved parts of FEAR OF DYING, because it spoke to me of things I, myself, am pondering these days. What gives us purpose? How can we forgive ourselves our shortcomings? How can we forgive those who have hurt us? And how can we face the end of life, when we're never quite sure what living is in the first place? As Vanessa finally says, "Death is fearlessness. It's the anticipation of our dying that's the problem." In some ways, Vanessa begins this novel believing that life is a huge joke, with death as its ultimate punch line. She longs for sex as a means of anesthetizing herself against the punch in the gut she knows will eventually come. But she learns pretty much the same thing her friend Isadora did years before - life and death are the same thing. The very act of living is also the act of dying, since every step we take, every move we make, brings us that much closer to the end. It's not sex that ends up saving Vanessa, but living. "Don't be afraid," Jong tells us. "Fear is a waste of life." And that is something we can all celebrate.
This is an intelligent and literary novel with a believable and identifiable protagonist. She may be a bit more sexually super-charged than many of us in our sixties, but her journey is in many ways all of ours. I do recommend FEAR OF DYING.
I want to note something else that I haven't seen mentioned in other reviews. Jong gets alot wrong about Jewish ritual observance, sacred text and liturgy. I cringed as I read some of her pronouncements. Her portrayal of Judaism is embarrassing to those who are actually Jewishly literate, treasure Judaism, and work hard to make themselves knowledgeable about it. Just because she writes about Judaism doesn't mean she actually knows what she's talking about. (She doesn't.) Who on earth edited this?
Erica Jong takes us along for her ride of inquiry into these issues in a way that is funny, sexy, painful and, ultimately, calming. It's been decades since I read "Fear of Flying"; in its way "Fear of Dying" is an apt and satisfying follow-up.
There was one thing that interfered with my feeling that I was a privileged girl friend having an intimate conversation with her: I felt alienated by the massive wealth of her, her husband, her friends and her family members. If she had had to worry that she'd lose everything--her home, her job, her carefully earned savings--by caring for a sick family member, or for a medical catastrophe, the luxury of erotic liaisons and $1,000 shoes would have been obviates.