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Fear of Flying
ISBN: 045120994X
By Erica Jong
Review by: Heather Darcy


Fear of Flying, Erica Jong’s first novel, is largely about self-discovery. Originally published 31 years ago, it’s the story of Isadora Wing, an unpublished writer stuck in a dismal marriage to her unfaithful psychiatrist husband. When the story begins, she is flying with him to a psychoanalytic conference in Vienna.

Out of boredom and loneliness, Isadora find herself drawn to a British therapist whose last name is—get this—Goodlove. A short-lived affair begins, and through this relationship, Isadora emerges with a new sense of self.

Isadora was a new kind of heroine. She had the courage to listen to her own heart and break out of the cage patriarchal society was keeping her in. Women were usually punished—even in fiction—for their so-called sins. Isadora accepted her mistakes—and learned from them—only to grow stronger and more confident.

In Jong’s novel, the heroine didn’t find her knight in shining armor in the form of a Fabio look-a-like. There was no glass slipper, no prince to awaken her from her slumber with a kiss. Isadora became her own knight in shining armor. She saved herself.

The book also introduced a new term to the pop culture lexicon: the “zipless fuck.” Jong defined the term in a recent interview as:

More than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together, zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff. Tongues intertwined and turned liquid. Your whole soul flowed out through your tongue and into the mouth of your lover.

This was heady stuff for the 1970s. Even though feminism had made some progress, women rarely wrote about sex with such openness and clarity. Many dismissed the book as pornography, and even today the book still hasn’t found its rightful place in women’s literature.

Critics attacked Jong and suggested her novel promoted promiscuity. Others tried to pigeon-hole the novel—they believed because the novel was so popular and so widely read, it couldn’t be “literary.” Jong, a lifelong poet who had already won many literary prizes—the Bess Hokin prize from Poetry Magazine for one—chose to ignore this and kept on writing.

Even though it’s been 31 years since the book was published, there are still many lessons women can learn from this book. Yes, some things have changed for the better for women, but other issues remain. Magazines everywhere still tout air-brushed, electronically altered images of woman. Approximately one out of every 100 young women between ten and twenty are starving themselves (sometimes to death) because they are convinced these unrealistic images of women are the norm. And according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, on average, women today are paid only 76 cents for every dollar men are paid.

Luckily, none of this has stopped Erica Jong from writing. Her new novel, Sappho’s Leap, illustrated that Jong is still breaking taboos with a unique kind of historical fiction. It’s the story of Sappho, the famous bisexual Greek poet. It’s good to know that in 31 years some things haven’t changed: Erica Jong still has the ability to educate, entertain and amaze readers with her fine novels, essays, and poetry.

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