Sarah's Reviews > Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
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's review
May 09, 12

it was amazing
bookshelves: erotic, read-again
Read from April 02 to 16, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I have tried to read this book over the years three or four separate times. Each time I was unable to get past the opening scene. Where’s the sex I wanted to know? What’s with all the shrinks, and God they are a dull bunch. This is supposed to be an erotic book right? Turns out the place I needed to be to get this book was a long time in coming.

Here’s what Marco Vassi--the most intelligent erotic writer of all time-- said about erotic writing and Fear of Flying in particular.

“Fear of Flying is an extraordinary erotic book, but it’s basically a literary novel. The eroticism is of the novel. Erotic literature is literature in which eroticism is the novel. It focuses on that. It also implies a certain degree of description, a certain hard core. And to find novels in which you have plot, character, literary quality, plus detailed and real moving descriptions of fucking is a rarity.”

Writing about sex and writing to arouse the reader are different things which too often get confused. I would like to see that change. Just because someone writes honestly about sex, or thinking about sex, does not make the book an erotic book, even if one or two passages really make your blood boil.*

What about those “detailed and real moving descriptions of fucking?” Almost all of the sex scenes presented in this book were disappointing at some level. When she is having sex there isn’t much emotional connection, when she is emotionally connected, or really turned on someone can’t get it up. This is a very different reading experience than something like the arcade scenes in Exit to Eden. What you will find in this book are honest discussions on the topic of sex: sexual freedom, sexual fantasy, sexual repression, sexual confusion.

Call me stunted, call me slow, but it has taken me a long time to say these things out loud so to find someone else who has already done it so well is a gift. Here’s a passage that I marked all to hell it was so relatable. For me it was liberating to see these words in print.

“Perhaps sex accounted for my fury. Perhaps sex was the real Pandora’s box. My mother believed in free love…Yet of course, she did not, or why did she say that boys wouldn’t respect me unless I played “hard to get” ? That boys wouldn’t chase me if I “wore my heart on my sleeve,” that boys wouldn’t call me if I “made myself cheap” ?
Sex, I was terrified of the tremendous power it had over me. The energy, the excitement, the power to make me feel totally crazy! What about that? How do you make that jibe with “playing hard to get”?”

Vassi says this is, “Basically a literary novel.” Thank you! This was my thought as I read though the passages that changed point of view, tense, and fell smoothly into profound or hilarious rumination. Isadora does lots of fantasizing, especially what I suspect both women and men can relate to--the zipless fuck. Intrigued? Read the book. I would say the purest version of this for me has always been found in books, alone with my authors and their words…After you read the book you can let me know what you think.

When I started raving on Facebook a family friend said she hated the book and sent me this review as she said it summed up why. Isadora comes off to some as whiny to some.

Fair enough. I can see this, but I would also argue that we hardly ever nail the guys for the same things when they are angsting about finding their place in the world, droning endlessly about their feelings of isolation, or how trapped they feel at the prospect of a new family or a career change. They aren’t whining, they are making sense out of important issues. We might even call them philosophers! (A wonderful book that centers on this quite a bit is Kenzeburo Oe’s A Personal Matter which I also reviewed. Wonderful book, the author eventually won a Nobel prize.)

I could agree with some of the reviewer’s comments about the plot, about the main character Isadora’s “problems.” She created a lot of them, and she is not always sympathetic. I could have cared less. What I will continue to recommend about this book are all the passages that sum up a particular situation or emotion, frustrations I had felt that someone else had finally legitimized. Erica Jong fictionalized several situations I had also found myself in, resenting the hell out whatever was going on and hating myself for smiling the whole time because that’s what good girls do. Can’t embarrass the man and his intellectual or physical failings, though he thinks he is being honest and helpful for pointing out yours.

What I find morbidly interesting is the fact that this book came out the year Roe v. Wade was passed. Could women in 1973 imagine that we would still have to listen to politicians make snide remarks about birth control in the year 2012? Maybe they could, maybe they were less optimistic than I am. For 2012, none of the situations or thoughts presented should be shocking. I’ve had much more graphic conversations with my friends over coffee at Starbucks, but I imagine in 1973 to see these thoughts in print, and to have people talking about zipless fucks, Tampax, and running away with that handsome stranger was something to see indeed.

To judge Fear of Flying, without benefit of the same social and political climate has got to be a mistake. To read this book now, I have to consider all the women who came before me, who divorced their husbands because they were not happy, who demanded to be taken care of in bed, who decided against having children so they could pursue their life’s goals. All of this surely could not have been as common and as acceptable as it is now. I would love to hear from any women who were adults at the time Fear of Flying came out and get a sense of what you think has changed if anything.

I can understand women who worked for a certain level of equality becoming impatient with Isadora and her angst, they were too busy making changes to stop and worry about anything else. Good for them, I send a sincere thank you and say God Bless. I would also would argue that being impatient with Isadora doesn’t make the angst any less relatable. Who hasn’t paid careful attention for half an hour while a male loved one spouted facts about a new civil war book he’s reading, only to have him put on an impatient face two minutes into your own explanation of something you find just as fascinating?

I would almost argue that the frustration the reader may feel with Isadora for making the decisions she does, staying with and listening to all her stupid male analysts, her infatuation with the infuriating Adrian, are part of what made me appreciate the book. My reactions to her behavior said a lot about me and I learned things about myself from having that experience. It is much easier to judge other women than to admit that we are often also mirrors of each other’s behavior. Sometimes I was ashamed to admit I had done some of the same things I was frustrated with Isadora for. She struggled with guilt for leaving a man who would in the end equal a lifetime of unhappiness and sacrifice. I know some women who say they don’t have time to write, to work on their art, to do any number of things that are important to them because hubby spends their after work time on his hobby. Someone after all has to look after the kids. At least they aren’t being bitchy and demanding like Isadora though. Where would we be if everyone were like her?

In the first few years of my marriage I am ashamed to admit I hardly read any of the books I loved so much because my husband, who doesn’t read, felt left out. Me, who came to that marriage with three full shelves of books and about ten different projects in mind! Fuck. Erica Jong has gone farther in identifying that bullshit female need to make everyone so goddam happy than anyone I have read before. She also did a beautiful job showing us how we force these ideas on our friends and our daughters. (Another reason I need to spend more time with the women.) In Isadora’s bitchiness, and refusal to just go along in many situations, I was reminded how easy it is to give up my own happiness, my own strength, my own ambition to take care of kids, hubby, friends who need me, whatever. Certainly they all matter to me, and certainly I cannot only live for me, or I would cease to be me, but does it have to be one or the other? Isadora Wing, though confused and clueless sometimes, stands up for herself, and when she doesn’t she stops to consider why. It was in these moments that I felt the most grateful.

What I did through most of the book was fold down pages and mark passages with my thumbnail until I was able to get ahold of a pencil. Don’t read this book for the story or for any kind of lesson about anything, unless of course you find something relevant in that. Read this book for what is relatable, good and bad. Here is one of my favorite passages:

“So I learned about women from men. I saw them through the eyes of male writers. Of course, I didn’t think of them as male writers. I thought of them as writers, as authorities, as gods who knew and were to be trusted completely.
Naturally I trusted everything they said, even when it implied my own inferiority.”

That last line almost made me ill it was so applicable to me. The passage goes on to give examples and when combined with all the men who keep telling her what is wrong with her and the fact that she listens to them makes the point yet again. Well what the fuck are you listening to them for? Makes you want to slap her and then hug her for finally coming to her senses. I challenge any woman to tell me she hasn’t ever done the same thing.

And guess who contributed a blurb…Henry Miller**!

“It is rare these days to come upon a book written by a woman which is so refreshing, so gay and sad at the same time, and so full of wisdom about the eternal man-woman problem.”

What I find interesting about the Miller quote is that he sees the problems Erica Jong shows us as “eternal.” Maybe they are when you consider that in some ways not much has changed about the dynamics between the sexes, we still routinely give up our dreams to support Him, nurture the family, while neglecting ourselves, and when we do finally stand up and take charge, we have to contend with a fair amount of guilt for doing so.

Maybe for me what is terrifying to admit is how easy it is to give up our best selves for some ideal that we can’t even identify in the real world. Ever since I read this book I have had even more reason to hate The Princesses.

Read this book. You may hate it, but I would hazard a guess that even then you will find some of yourself in this crazy woman’s thoughts and fantasies. This is an important book that I can’t believe more women haven’t read, and men for that matter. I also guess that everyone who reads it will take away something different and am eager to hear from anyone willing to discuss the book.

*Anyone read Outlander? My word, there were a few scenes in there that really worked for me, though the book is classified as a historical romance.

** See my review of Tropic of Cancer. I love Henry Miller, but I never found much of his writing all that erotic either.
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Reading Progress

04/02/2012 page 40
04/12/2012 page 130
27.0% "can't believe how good this book is"
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Jack (new)

Jack Remick Erica Jong is a follower of Henry Miller. Henry Miller wouldn't like Jonathan Franzen's note about body fluids and biology, however. Erica Jong wrote FofF at a time when Franzen's view prevailed. The novel ought to be on the table now that the right wing fanatics are waging another war on just about everything female. Thanks, Erica. Thanks Sarah for bringing the novel up now.(less)

message 2: by Sarah (last edited May 09, 2012 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah Thanks Jack! I love Henry Miller. I didn't want to get off on a tangent about him since I did a few in my review. I am such a putz though. I will get the real review up in just a sec. I forgot how Goodreads calls these little notes reviews. I got the real one up on my website today.
You are definately right about getting the book out there again. I shoud start lobbying. I might have to start giving away copies!

Meryl I couldn't agree more. I related to so much she was saying, and I find the issues she's struggling with very relevant almost 40 years later. Her frankness and narcissism is no different from Philip Roth's, who I also like.

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