Review: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

I finished Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying over the weekend, so I’m going to wax poetic about it now. Bear with me.

First of all, it’s not as brilliant as I thought it would be—it’s even more so! I’ve known the premise for years, but the timing of my reading couldn’t have been more perfect, as it mirrors my life and my circumstances (as it is right now) so much that it’s almost eerie.

Basically, it’s about Isadora, a writer/poet who is constantly restless in her relationships/marriages for no other reason than boredom, general disdain for the mundane, and the nagging idea of “something more,” regardless if she had a good thing going or not.

Sounds familiar? You bet!

So yes, like any story of conflict such as this, there is, of course, a great undoing. In Isadora’s case, it was having an affair with a rather reprehensible gentleman right under her poor (though not entirely blameless) husband’s nose, then leaving him in a lurch to cavort with said gentleman through Europe. It is not as terrible/romantic as it sounds, however, as that little adventure turned out to be a real dud. As a result, our heroine was forced to hit rock bottom, take stock, and claw through the muck that was her life to become a new (and hopefully better) person.

I’m not going to go into details, but I had my Isadora moment a couple of months ago, which almost cost me the one thing on earth that I never wanted to give up. No, I didn’t run off with a strange man—good heavens, not even close! But there was a serious unraveling, and boy, did I hit rock bottom. I was forced to confront my demons and see myself for who I really was—a person who wasn’t as squeaky clean and shiny as I thought, and one not at all above reproach and selfishness.

But my feelings and personal affinity with the book aside, Fear of Flying is a true phenom for an even bigger reason—in that it paved the way for women to explore their sexuality through literature in a kind of honest bravado that has so far been unseen up until the time of its publishing. True, it’s a classic tale of a woman finding herself through misadventure, but that’s a generalization that barely scratches the surface.

Although it has a plot that could qualify for “chick lit” today, you have to understand that this was published in 1973. Back then, women writers were just starting to come into their own, tentatively pushing the boundaries when it came to writing about sex and, by extension, female sexuality. Even the likes of Anaïs Nin and Simone de Beauvoir with their so-called “scandalous” eroticism hid behind the safety of romance.

Indeed, there is no romanticized, bodice-ripping prose here, which, until then, was what was deemed acceptable for women writing about sex. Erica was truly riding at the crest of second-wave feminism when she introduced the idea of the “zipless fuck”—that is to say, sex for the sake of sex without emotional commitment or involvement, preferably with a veritable stranger. This scandalized the world so much because it exposed the truth that women are, in fact, capable of being cavalier, downright blatant, and even detached about sex, too—a notion that, even until today, many are still uncomfortable with and have a hard time acknowledging, let alone embracing.

So yes, Fear of Flying has become very special to me. I waited over 10 years to find this book and finally read it, and now I understand why.


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