Taylor K.'s Reviews > Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
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Aug 12, 08

bookshelves: fiction, favorites, own, desert-island-picks, just-like-a-woman, the-power-of-love, women-writers, wheres-the-bedroom
Recommended for: Everyone. Except snobs.
Read in April, 2006

For whatever reason (possibly because someone I recommended it to wasn't that thrilled by it), I feel a bit like I need to defend this book lately, and since I reviewed it when I first joined this site and most people were writing shorter reviews, I'd like to give it a better write-up.

The premise of Fear of Flying is fairly simple: Isadora White Wing is in a marriage she isn't exactly happy with. Her husband isn't especially warm to her, nor is he incredibly supportive of her career (like Jong, of course, she's a writer).

While on a trip in Vienna, Isadora fantasizes about being with another man, and this book is more or less about those fantasies - what they mean in the context of her marriage, her entire love life, what they mean for women in general.

It's true, the writing isn't exactly high brow. It's incredibly self-indulgent and narcissistic, and you will, from time to time, feel like you could have written it, and maybe even done a better job.

That, however is not the point of this book. It's not about the way she writes, but the fact that she wrote it in the first place.

You'd think, after books like The Awakening - which was written in motherfucking 1899, by the by - that society would've gradually accepted that women have sex drives. Sexuality is important to women, women want pleasure, women have fantasies, sometimes women, too, just want to get down and dirty and out the door.

But no! Even today, 109 years after Kate Chopin wrote The Awakening, people are still coping with feminine sexuality.

The importance of Fear of Flying is Jong opening up the female mind, showing people: this is what we think about, worry about, these are the problems we have, these are things on our minds where men, careers and lives are concerned. You may not always agree with her or have the exact same problems, but I would be astounded if any woman gets through this book without finding anything she can relate to.

As I see it, there are two major dilemmas going on here, which are both issues that many women I know - myself included - have faced.

The first is sort of what the two men she debates between represent to her and her life. There's comfort and stability, represented by Bennett, her (second) husband. Then there's passion and intensity represented by Adrian Goodlove (yeah, a real dumbdumb name, but I kind of love it because of that). A LOT of women often feel like they're forced to choose between these two extremes at one point or another. I definitely have, and most women I know have, too. I know someone sorting through a similar pair of men at this very moment in time.

The second is a dilemma that's just as applicable to men as it is to women, and that's the idea of freedom and independence, and struggling to maintain that within the framework of a relationship. She wants to be strong and able to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants, both in terms of love and her career, but at the same time, she wants support, companionship. Is there anyone who hasn't struggled with this - even if only on a small scale - at some point or another?

There are also other issues within the context of those issues - Do women have to get married? Why do we feel we have to? Etc.

Again, I have to stress that this book is more about what she says as opposed to how she says it. I imagine she had a hunch that this book would elicit a controversial response and was probably concerned a lot more with content than she was style. Honestly, I think that's allowable in these circumstances. She wanted to encourage women to go out and explore their sexuality and what it meant to them, and with such a noble cause, I can forgive her the rudimentary approach. She's not perfect, and I don't see why she has to be. I think that's also part of this book's charm. She isn't perfect, she knows it, and she learns to accept it - another conundrum plenty of people face in one way or another - and I'd say that's true of both the character and the author.

As for how it fits in modern times, I do think it's still applicable. It might seem a bit closeted to women who feel they've fully embraced their sexuality or have read more of the modern musings on female pleasure first. None-the-less, the issues I mention above that Isadora struggles with are still very much current.

Are there books that approach these issues that might be more modern? Sure. But I also think there's importance in knowing the kind of novel that shocked America in the '70s, a time when most of us from a younger generation think of free love and hippies and feminism and what not. For a modern woman, there isn't anything shocking about this. The fact that it was shocking is what's so damn upsetting. The '70s were not that long ago! And people were thrown back by the fact that women had dreams of random sexual encounters! It's appalling. Of course, at the same time, despite the fact that if this book was released today, it probably wouldn't be considered a revelation, I'm sure Isadora would still get labeled cruelly. Which is also kind of upsetting.

None-the-less, if you like the topic but not the writing style of Fear of Flying, I definitely suggest The Awakening, which is a little more high-brow.


Original review:
I kindofsortof hate it when people say things like "this book changed my life," but if I was going to say that about just one book, I would say it about this one.

Yes, it's neurotic, yes, it's self-obsessed. But I like it that way, and there's still plenty to take from this book even for those who don't especially enjoy writing like that. There are also plenty of modern writers who do the same thing and are praised for it (cough Dave Eggers cough).

In the simplest overview, there's nothing particularly revelatory about her observations and conclusions -- everyone goes through the struggle of wanting to be independent and wanting to be loved, and most of us learn this rather early on. But there's something about the way that she approaches this, the way that she handles it, that makes it hit you like a truck. I dare you to come away from reading this book without thinking about it for at least the next week.

Though this book is obviously marketed towards women, I think it's just as important reading for men.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Meg (new)

Meg You've pretty much convinced me to give this a shot. NICE ONE.


Taylor K. Awesome! Now I just hope you don't hate it and end up cursing me for the suggestion. As I said in the review, it's not perfect - but I do think it's worth reading and thinking about.


message 3: by Meg (new)

Meg I'll definitely read it with all that in mind. Feels like it should be part of my personal canon, you know?


message 4: by Allison (new) - added it

Allison I just heard the other day that Diane English (director of The Women, Murphy Brown) is making a movie based on this book, sounds kinda interesting!


Taylor K. Whoa, really? They were supposed to make a movie of it ages ago, not long after it came out, but it got indefinitely shelved. She actually writes about that in the follow up to this, How To Save Your Own Life.


message 6: by Allison (new) - added it

Allison Well, it took her 14 years to come out with her remake of The Women which is finally coming out 9/12, so hopefully it won't take that long!


message 7: by Arnie (new) - added it

Arnie I think you'd like Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel. It's not fiction and deals with the difficulty (some would say impossibility) of maintaining passion while maintaining a loving long term relationship.


Michelle This is the best review about fear of flying I've read so far


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