Reviewed by Jan Tarasovich (Photo by Tim Hanger)

“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.”

Jane Juska paid $136.50 to place her carefully thought-out personal ad in The New York Review of Books, where “very smart people write very thoughtful, very long essays on everything from Freud to Jon-Benet Ramsey.” What would move a retired high school English teacher to go man-hunting in this way, and what happened when she did? The story is told in her feisty 2003 memoir A Round-Heeled Woman (slang for a woman who spends a lot of time with her feet in the air).

“I did not begin this adventure seeking a husband, a long-term relationship…, a partner,” Jane wrote. “I liked where I lived [in California] and, for the most part, the life I lived there. It just didn’t have any touching in it…. I had felt a little dying happening to me for too long. I suppose placing the ad was my way of raging against that. I sure as hell wasn’t going to go gentle into that good night.”

After getting dozens of replies to her ad, Jane sorted them into yes/maybe/no piles, grading the writers’ literary style as well as their sexual potential. She loved John’s style: “formal, sort of, syntactically varied—a varied syntax sends shivers up and down my spine—interested in me, always a seductive tactic against which I am hopeless.”

When her list of The Chosen was final, Jane began making regular trips from her California home to New York, where most of her, shall we say, suitors(?) lived. The city, especially its elite repositories of literary culture, would give her almost as much pleasure as her sexual partners. And there was, believe me, a lot of pleasure, and she is not shy about describing it. She went to bed almost immediately with most of the men she met. We get to know a half dozen of her sometimes overlapping lovers, though I must admit they soon blurred for me into one demi-god capable of producing multiple simultaneous orgasms of both body and mind. Some were nicer than others. None were total losers. Most were about her age, but one was thirty-three. At least one (no, not the young guy) broke her heart. 

But she had no regrets: “I had thought to make my life fuller, not just happier. I had thought that my passion, which had served so many people so well when I was a teacher, might find a place to put itself before it subsided into the contentment of old age. I thought right; I got what I hoped for.” When Charlie Rose interviewed her after the book came out, she was still maintaining three relationships.

Between descriptions of her sexual adventures, Jane slips in wonderful stories of her life as a teacher, a sexless time when, after a failed early marriage, she gave all her passion to her students. She was clearly both a lover of great literature and a dedicated iconoclast. When asked what she taught, she replied: “Sustained ambiguity.” She successfully sued her school board when they banned Ms magazine after “a group of moms, all of them from an organization that wanted to change the name of our district, Mount Diablo, to Valley of the Kings” objected to its use in her classroom. 

Her teaching anecdotes had me (also a retired English teacher) laughing out loud. “Sometimes,” she admits, “you just lose it, like when a kid blurted out, `Why is this class so boring?’ and I answered, `Because you’re in it’.” Or the time a freshman “raised his hand, which should have been my first clue—and said with all the sweetness of a snake, `Mrs. Juska, what was it like before fire?’ I looked directly back at him and said, `Cold like your heart.’ Pause. `And dark like your mind.’ The friend jabbed the kid in the shoulder and chortled, `She got you, she got you.’ It’s great to be victorious over fourteen-year-olds.”

So it’s not just in sex that Jane Juska is a woman of great appetite and irrepressible spirit, a woman who dares and shocks, who takes risks, who throws herself passionately, if sometimes recklessly, into life. I like her a lot. I hope you do too.

Read more of Jan’s reviews at Book Talk and her musings on literary style at In Search of the Perfect Sentence.