Column: When You Come to a Fork in the Road

By Susan Parker
Tuesday May 16, 2006

“Do you think you are a nymphomaniac?” is the question that begins A Round-Heeled Woman, My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, by Elmwood resident Jane Juska. 

Now, three years later, Jane has penned a follow-up memoir, Unaccompanied Women: Late-Life Adventures in Love, Sex, and Real Estate, that reads like a comfortable conversation between good friends. It’s as if the author and her readers are strolling down nearby College Avenue, peeking into the storefront windows of Sweet Dreams, ducking in for coffee at Café Roma, eating lunch at La Mediterranee, or waiting in line at the Elmwood Theater while discussing the nymph-o issue, and much more. 

In her chatty, no-nonsense style, Jane writes about her life since her first book hit the shelves and caused a stir. Articles in the New York Times and the foreign press, readings at the 92nd Street Y, and in London, appearances on Charlie Rose and The Early Show catapulted Jane into the public eye and made her a self-declared “sexpert” at the ripe, juicy age of 70. 

I caught up with Jane at a reading at Mrs. Dalloway’s. The cozy College Avenue bookstore was filled to overflowing with fans eager to hear of Jane’s latest exploits. Like a stand-up comic, or a more easier on the eyes and ears Dr. Ruth, Jane dished. She read chapters from her new book, and entertained with stories about the men she has dated, bedded, lamented, and spurned since A Round-Heeled Woman made the bestseller lists. She kvetched about real estate prices, local and international politics, the closing of Cody’s and Clean-Well Lighted Books, and the necessity and difficulty of finding a well-made, properly shaken martini. 

More importantly, she talked about the women she has met since she became a reluctant authority on sex and the over-50 set. At readings and speaking engagements, in letters and e-mails, women have sought her advice, and confessed how they’ve been transformed by her words and actions. Many of these encounters are chronicled in Unaccompanied Women: the well-dressed, sophisticated Persian ladies from Oakland who befriended her and described their difficult upbringings and failed marriages; the 68-year-old woman who went on-line to find a date, fell in love, and then realized she was, after all, content with her former life; the woman who lost (and eventually regained) her heart and her identity to a seemingly charming but ultimately devious man determined to destroy her; the elderly couple who’d fallen in love as teenagers and re-found one another 65 years later. Jane weaves her personal experiences with theirs, chronicling her ups and downs, and her hesitancy to give counsel when her own life feels inadequate and out-of-control. 

Since A Round-Heeled Woman went into multiple printings, and was translated into French, Italian, Japanese, and Russian, Jane has been on a roller coaster, heady with excitement, exploration, and, sometimes, disappointment. 

Along the way she has gained insight into who she is and what she wants: a stable roof over her head, a diamond or two, and a warm, male body to hold her close, but not too tightly. 

Jane has been asked by her fans where to buy dildos, (Good Vibrations), and how to have tantric sex (she doesn’t know). Strangers have requested her guidance on learning to love their overweight bodies and child birthing scars, on how to handle the unexpected departure of a once adored husband and the death of a longtime, beloved spouse. 

Jane readily admits she doesn’t have the answers to any of these questions. But by writing down her fabulously naughty and oftentimes painfully awkward journey, she provides encouragement and hope to those who are lonely, confused, and wanting. Like Yogi Berra, whom she quotes in Unaccompanied Women, Jane says firmly and without an apology, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”