Vanessa Wonderman is forced to come to terms with death as her ailing parents, her husband, and even her dog flirt with death. While some succumb to the final act of life, Vanessa explores what death means for her in these moments while also trying to re-explore her sexuality. Long-time friends with Isadora Wing, the two women swap stories on sex while understanding the impact of death during life.
“As you get older, the losses around you are staggering. The people in the obits come closer and closer to your own age. Older friends and relatives die, leaving you stunned. Competitors die, leaving you triumphant. Lovers and teachers die, leaving you lost. It gets harder and harder to deny your own death.”
“But time, once your friend, becomes your enemy. It gallops by as you get older. Holidays come faster and faster. Years fly off the calendar as in the old movies. All you long for is to go back and do it all over, correct the mistakes, make everything right. My father must feel that way. I understand when it is too late to tell him.”
“She was a daily lesson in living one day at a time. Anticipation and regret were not in her lexicon. We wanted nothing more than to be like her. Live in the moment, we tell ourselves. But only our dogs fully practice that. They are our Zen masters. We want to emulate them but rarely achieve it fully.”
“We think we know how death comes, having seen it before, but every death is as unique as every birth. There is no template that applies to everyone.”
TOE BEANS VALUE
Having had a long-standing struggle to understand time and how to make the most of it before death comes, I had high hopes for this book. A few passages in the book captured my own fear perfectly, but I wanted to feel the same sense of discovery and revelation I felt after reading Fear of Flying. However, the plot and some of the characters felt flat. I couldn’t connect with Vanessa–either in like or dislike. Jong also reintroduces Isadora Wing which felt like a stretch and more of a TV drama cross-over gimmick. I would have rather Jong give Vanessa more time to grow on me as a reader, instead of bringing Wing back into the mix.
One thing I do like about this book and about Jong as an author is you can tell she is a smart and well-read woman. The writing style still has that stream of consciousness vibe and the chapters are laid out so that they don’t seamlessly flow but do fit together in a most unexpected way. I also adore the way Jong always references other authors, books, philosophical thoughts, and historical data points. Not that every author doesn’t do their research, but Jong has a heavy hand when she sprinkles it in; and instead of feeling forced, it gives her characters a depth of knowledge that I appreciate.
Would Fear of Dying live in my permanent collection? Sadly, no. Is it worth a read? Yes, if you value Jong’s writing style. 4 out 10 toe beans for this book.
Have you ever loved and disliked books by the same author? I felt torn not giving this one a high rating, but it just didn’t work for me. Like and comment below – would love to hear from you!