Two weeks ago, when I called the New York publishing house Villard and asked to speak to Jane Juska’s publicist, a polite but curt voice demurred, “As you can imagine, she’s quite busy right now. Everyone’s talking about Ms. Juska and her book.” Eventually he put me through to the assistant to the publicist who sent me Jane’s new memoir, “A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance.”
You betcha everyone’s talking about Jane Juska: Publisher’s Weekly, the Kirkus Review, The New York Times, The Times of London, the L.A. Times, television and radio talk shows across the country and the Atlantic. While I sat in Jane’s sunny garden for a little over an hour, the phone never stopped ringing. Jane Juska is in demand, and not just with the men she’s dating.
About the only place that Jane hasn’t yet heard from is the New York Review of Books. And those are the very folks who should be knocking on her Berkeley cottage door. After all, it was in their pages that Jane placed the personal ad that prompted her tell-all memoir and thus the ensuing onslaught of media attention.
It all started back in 1999, when Jane wrote the following ad after watching Eric Rohmer’s “Autumn Tale” at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley: “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.” She received 63 responses and, after putting them in piles of yes, no and maybe, she decided to explore her options. The result is a rollicking, well-told tale about a strong-willed, bold woman who goes in search of a good time.
“A Round-Heeled Woman” is also a candid, sensitive look at what it’s like to be single, over 60 and desirous of physical and intellectual relationships. Jane taught English for more than 40 years in high schools, colleges and prisons in the Bay Area. For 20 of those years she was busy raising a son and juggling multiple teaching responsibilities. She writes bluntly that she was too tired, too fat and too depressed for sex. She hid her body in extra-large muumuus and numbed herself with scotch. But when she finally retired from teaching she knew she wanted more than reading, drinking and puttering alone in the garden.
Jane’s honesty about her need for physical contact and meaningful dialogue is refreshing. She wants sex. She wants cuddling. She yearns to share intimate dinners and hold lively discussions about books, music and art. Through her personal ad she finds men who want to satisfy her physically and indulge in her passion for conversation and good literature. But it’s not perfect. As you might expect it’s sometimes messy, disappointing and scary. Messy because it’s not always easy to meet someone in person that you’ve communicated with only via snail and e-mail. Disappointing because, well let’s face it, sex can often be disappointing. And scary because Jane took some risks.
“I knew when I went into this thing that I could get hurt. I knew I could get beaten up every which way, slapped around on both coasts, mugged, assaulted all across the country, suffer injuries from which I would never recover. I could even die. I knew when I decided to fill my life fully, I could not choose only the good parts.”
Jane tells us about her suitors with humor and insight. She travels across the country several times for intimate rendezvous. Some of the men she meets are gentle, some are confused, others are mean, kind, funny, silly, handsome and both wonderful and lousy lovers. They range in age from 32 to 82. The personal detail of her prose is not scintillating. It’s honest, real, gutsy and genuine. Some readers may think that Jane should take a cold shower, get a dog or purchase a well-designed dildo down at Good Vibrations. But luckily, Jane opts instead to make some feisty choices and to share her journey with us.
As I leave Jane’s garden, she walks me to the gate. I hear the phone ring. She smiles. “My publicist told me she’ll leave me alone on Sundays. And I told her ‘Don’t worry, I’m available 24/7.’”
I think to myself “You go, girl. Someday, when I’m sixty-six, I’m going to run an ad like yours.”
I watch Jane turn and head for her cottage. She has passed some of her joie de vivre on to me. I let my hips sway a little as I walk down the street. I smile. It’s good to be alive. It’s good to be in Berkeley. It’s good to know Jane Juska.
Jane Juska will read from her memoir A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex & Romance on Thursday, May 15, 7 PM at Cody’s on Fourth Street.