How to Save Your Own Life is the sequel to Erica Jong’s debut novel, Fear of Flying. This one finds heroine – and Jong’s literary alter ego – Isabelle Wing back in New York, deciding whether or not to leave her “awful wedded husband” Bennett.
As with Fear of Flying, this novel is frank, funny, and surprisingly contemporary for being over 30 years old. It is as full of insight and spot-on commentary about the human condition as the best of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, John Updike, or any of the other male authors Jong set out to emulate from a female perspective.
Not all aspects of the book have survived as well as others, as Jong herself recognizes in a new Afterward published in the 2006 edition. As has happened with several Roth and Updike novels, some of the sex scenes now seem dated and unhygienic. There is even an orgy scene (!) that inspires no fantasies other than a desire to scrub the pages with rubbing alcohol.
But the underlying issue of how to build a lasting marriage based on love, companionship, and mutual respect is as compelling today as when Jong first tackled it in the 1970s.
OTHER REVIEWS(If you would like your review posted here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)
NOTESThis book is on Anthony Burgess' list of Top 99 novels.
My very short review of Fear of Flying is here.