First published in 1973, this frank and forth right look into the sexual challenges facing a woman of those times was banned in France and Italy,not mention stirred a bit of ire amongst Americans due to this book being made possible by a NEA grant.
With FOF set to release a fortieth anniversary edition next month(with a thoughtful and heartfelt introduction by present day author Jennifer Weiner) that I happen to receive an Advance Copy of,thanks to Library Thing,holding off until this particular literary themed week seemed to be perfect timing. Perfection,however, is a goal that the heroine of this story seeks just about everywhere and in vain.
Isadora Wing is our reluctant guide into her troubled psyche,a journalist and poet with her first poetry collection doing well yet she still harbors doubts about rejecting traditional family life for her art. Frustrated in her work and her second marriage to Bennett,a mild mannered psychiatrist,she decides to accompany him to Vienna for a conference of his colleagues.
Her plan is to write an article about the event but instead,her mind wanders to a favorite fantasy known as the zipless fuck( casual sex,also known as the one night stand). Isadora is not shy in her speech about her wants and needs,which at the time of it's debut, was considered rather shocking especially from a woman. Nowadays, not so much but despite her language being saltier than a bag of jumbo pretzels, Isadora has a charm that grows on you. I came to see her as a raunchier version of TV's Rhonda as the pages turned:
While they do have a few romantic romps together(once Adrian is able to get his equipment fully into gear,that is) and jealousy games are played with Bennett, this relationship is not depicted in the hot and heavy manner you might be expecting here. The whole point of this plot is for Isadora to experience what she believes to be her greatest wish come true but as they say, be careful what you wish for:
Rather,she slowly realizes that while deciding your own course in life is not something to be pursued lightly, holding yourself back with fears and doubts isn't that much helpful either. As Isadora does a mental review of her life and times, one thing that stands out to me is that her writing career has caused more people to throw obstacles in her path than her sexual pursuits have
From the love-hate relationship with her frustrated artist of a mother to the resentment born by her questionably happily married-with-children sisters and the frowning disapproval of a college professor when she confesses to him that she is sick of studying literary criticism and would prefer to be on the other side of the pen,Isadora and her unwavering drive to write and be published gets more eye brows raised at Isadora than anything else.
The struggle for women to have to choose between career and family(and the comments made regarding whichever path said lady takes) is still ongoing and is one of the reasons that,despite the book being very much of it's time, Fear of Flying does have some resonance for today's reader. Not every woman or man picking this up may take to it but the artistically inclined might find some common ground with Isadora's yearning to sing a better song of herself:
In looking over some of the novels that have been banned and/or challenged over the years for being "sexually explicit", I've come to the conclusion that a number of those authors simply used sex as a means of getting readers intrigued enough to open their books to discover what they really want to talk about,such as class struggles(Lady Chatterley's Lover),the deeper meaning of life(Ulysses) or in this case,women trying to balance out their head and heart choices in their personal lives.
That's not a reproach on my part. After all, catching the eye of a potential reader strolling along the bookshelves is as difficult as trying to get customers to chose your casino or nightclub over the hundreds of others on the Vegas strip. The main difference is that instead of bait and switch, the reader is actually given more than he or she bargained for in a good way.
Isadora Wing may not be your ideal of a leading lady whose footsteps you want to follow in but you have to admire her willingness to become a frequent flyer in her own right. Erica Jong's outspoken heroine paved the way for many others and for that alone, Fear of Flying is worth keeping on the shelves: