FULL BLOOM: Works by Writers Over 40

January 7, 2007

HAWT READ: A Round-Heeled Woman

Filed under: Uncategorized — by BairbS @ 12:17 am

For One Woman, Better Late was Definitely Better Than Never

A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, by Jane Juska. Random House, May, 2004

The title of Jane Juska’s kiss, tell and bare-all memoir suggests a mass-market bodice-ripper about a bed-hopping grandmother. Ya think?

Think again.

Granny may indeed be indulging in amorous athletics, but the impulse is hardly the stuff of cheap reads.

These late-life adventures are the personal history of a divorced, retired English teacher who decided to enjoy the sexual pleasure that she had never known as a younger woman trapped in a loveless marriage. For thirty years she lived without a man in her life. Then, at the age of 66, she sought a partner through a personal ad, which, in a hint of things to come, appeared in the New York Review of Books:

“Before I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”

The Trollope phrase should have suggested no ordinary tryst. While Ms. Juska’s impetus for the liaison may have been physical, the thrusts were intellectual and founded on more than a little introspection. The titular descriptive is borrowed from the nineteenth-century term for a loose woman. In the first few pages of her memoir, Ms. Juska not only admits that she is “an easy lay,” but she emphasizes that she is “an easy sixty-seven-year-old lay,” lest we dare replace her in our imaginations with one of the lovely young models who appear on the covers of romance novels. Her story unfolds as a psychological “full-frontal” whose frankness and self-effacement made me envision sex-researcher Alfred Kinsey impersonating a Victorian memoir-writer. Every fact and description, no matter how small or sordid, is recorded. As a writer, Ms. Juska seems to understand that readers crave the titillation that accompanies every gasp that they utter in the shock and offense that society expects them to show at such displays.

Indeed, Ms. Juska’s stark, sometimes demeaning descriptions of her looks and actions have a self-conscious quality that suggests she expects derision from readers who would prefer not to know about the sexual exploits of women on the cusp of elderly.

I applaud Ms. Juska’s frankness. It can be poignant, as in an account of the deprivation of touch, or hilarious (a blow-by-blow account of eating malt balls ends in an appropriate double entendre). But it creates the memoir’s main dramatic gaff: Rather than sustain suspense and make us wonder about the motivation behind her “adventures,” Ms. Juska explains all in the first chapter, where she expounds on her repressive childhood and on five years of psychoanalysis:

“Psychoanalysis had cleaned out a lot of gunk; it had insisted on teaching me to think, it had forced me to stop wallowing in the self-pity of narcissism, it had offered me its couch, and at the end of five years I was strong enough to rise and go forth. And try as I might to revert to a lifetime of repression, I could no longer pretend that my life was complete. One of the truths I had had to accept during my years on the couch was that pleasure was not bad, that it was natural for people to desire pleasure, that denying oneself pleasure was not healthy.”

Such rationalization evokes the popular psychology of the late twentieth century. But it also shoots a flare: This “Round-Heeled Woman” is no superficial, sex-crazed granny. Behind the self-deprecation and the phrases that provide inside jokes for English majors (among them, “It was a dark and stormy night”) is a savvy woman with a gift for personal exigesis. In a skewed homage to Dickens’s David Copperfield, she reflects that she “may turn out to be the hero of my own life.” “[T]his I know for sure right now,” she concludes, “I am easily aroused.” The arousal both propels Ms. Juska’s unlikely quest and suggests that lust is what keeps the fires burning through the winter of our lives.
EDITOR’S NOTE: NY Times bestseller Eloisa James is hosting an in-depth discussion of A Round-Heeled Woman this month at her Web site, http://www.eloisajames.com. Please click on the Bulletin Board link at the top of the home page. The discussion is in the Book Club January 2007 thread of the Book Talk forum. Enjoy!

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