Jong’s first novel since Sappho’s Leap (2003).
As a young woman, Vanessa Wonderman was a successful stage actress. She even had a midlife run as the villain on a nighttime soap opera. When she married a billionaire 20 years her senior, she recognized that she was choosing love and comfort over adventure. But now her parents are dying and her husband’s had a heart attack and she’s reconsidering the choices she’s made. As the title suggests, this novel is a bookend to Jong’s scandalous debut. Isadora Wing, the protagonist from Fear of Flying, reappears—older and wiser—as Vanessa’s best friend. Desperate to feel vital in the midst of decay and death, Vanessa places a personals ad on zipless.com (another reference, of course, to Jong’s first novel). What follows is the heroine reflecting on her slightly wild past and her mildly terrifying present as she auditions potential lovers who range from the disappointing to the alarming. All of this is promising, but spending almost 300 pages with Vanessa is like enduring a trans-Atlantic flight with a seatmate who never stops talking but doesn’t have a whole lot to say. Vanessa’s greatest weakness—as a narrator, definitely, and possibly as a person—is her truly spectacular self-absorption. She drifts off into observation on topics like war and the Internet and female circumcision without recognizing that she has nothing new to say on any of them. Worst of all, though, is the fact that the culture seems to have outpaced Jong when it comes to sex. Vanessa wonders at the fact that she and Isadora are able to speak candidly of S&M; neither Vanessa nor her author seems to know that this is now the stuff of prime-time TV. Jong does have interesting—even arresting—things to say about age and dying. They’re just hard to find in this overlong and self-satisfied novel.
Not without its moments.