Review – Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

fear-flying-erica-jong-paperback-cover-art“Growing up female in America. What a liability! You grew up with your ears full of cosmetic ads, love songs, advice columns, whoreoscopes, Hollywood gossip, and moral dilemmas on the level of TV soap operas.”

– Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

First, let me say, this is a fascinating book to have read during Women’s History Month.  Second, let me say, this book was bad.  So bad.  I hated it.

Okay, I get it.  Jong wrote about women in a “completely new way” (Nora Sayre) that women can totally “identify” with Isadora who is “really more of a person than a woman” (New York Times – I’m not even going to go there, NYT.  WTF.)  It’s “a raunchy, anarchic account of a woman’s sexual escapades conducted with a… lusty disregard for convention, taste or conscience” (Time – emphasis mine) and it’s a “brave and honest book” (Hannah Green) and one that was “a welcome addition to a male-dominated genre” (Cleveland Plain Dealer).  Praises abound, to be sure.  And to be honest, I feel like I’m going to be called a prude because I didn’t like it.  It had nothing to do with the sex scenes (in fact, after all the talk, I was surprised at how few there were) or the bad language, I could care less about those things.  They have their places in books and it was clear that they had their place here.  What got to me about this book was the utter ridiculousness of it all, of the main character Isadora Wing and her “problems.”

The book begins at a psychoanalysis conference that Isadora is attending with her second husband Bennet when she meets Adrian, a handsome English psychoanalyst who grabs her bottom and she’s never the same again.  She eventually goes on a cross-Europe journey with Adrian, leaving her husband behind, trying to find herself.  There were moments when I actually almost liked Isadora.  She was self-conscious enough to be loveable, for about two seconds.  Then all the things that she was so sure were true about life, sex, men, women, children, families, Arabs really start to get to the reader.  This book bothered me in the same way Catcher in the Rye and On the Road bother me – self-sure (wo)man, goes on self-searching journey, abandoning everything, says a few cuss words, has a few Remarkable Insights that must be shared along the way, and eventually loses what could have made the story worth reading anyway (all three even dip into the racism).

The book is not necessarily poorly written – if nothing else, though I was completely infuriated, I could appreciate Jong’s style. Even her use of curse words was impressively seamless.  It was just the attitude of the main character and how she said things and how this is supposed to be how women think.  I guess it’s how some women think.  But what stereotypes did Jong really break?  In fact, I think she created some and perpetuated some.

The first couple chapters I thought I was really going to enjoy this book, that it was going to be an interesting perspective, an interesting story.  Then I got to this quote, and it sealed the deal.  This quote infuriated me.  It made me want to throw the book across the room in anger.

Besides, the older you got, the clearer it became that men were basically terrified of women.  Some secretly, some openly.  What could be more poignant than a liberated woman eye to eye with a limp prick?  All history’s greatest issues paled by comparison with these two quintessential objects: the eternal woman and the eternal limp prick.

Oh, really?  REALLY?  All history’s greatest issues?  All of them?

Get a grip, Isadora/Erica.

45% – Ugh, put it back on the shelf, now.  Turn back while you can.


6 thoughts on “Review – Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

  1. Oh my! We had totally different reactions to FOF! Here is ,a href=””>the review I just posted today. I expected to react tot he book the way you did, and instead, I was swept away. I loved it.

    I think our different reactions may have something to do with our different stages in life. I read FOF last year, when I was 42 and happily into my second marriage, having experienced an unhappy first one. I completely sympathized with Isadora.

    Finally, not to beat this to death, but I think that pull out quote is brilliant.

    C’est la vie! Or, should I say, c’est le livre!

    I’ll add a link to your review.

  2. This view that women can always “perform”, even without arousal and pleasure, actually is a patriarchal, not a feminist approach to sex. Jong fell into this trap. But it´s a common misunderstanding….

  3. I can’t seem to find the date of your posts publication, but I’m guessing it was a while ago.
    I stumbled across your post doing research for a paper on Fear of Flying for a Women & Gender Studies class called Sexual Revolutions.
    I wanted to say that most of my classmates and myself agree with your assertions in this post. It probably didn’t help that our professor admitted that she didn’t care for the book either…

    1. Thanks for visiting. It was quite a while ago. Honestly it’s good to have some kind of validation about my feelings of this book. I haven’t really encountered too many people who have read it and those who have, often love it. Sounds like a great class!

  4. Oh, I did find it a bit irritaing, but I think you’re a little harsh on her! I think we’ve got to remember she was writing a long time ago, and things that seem odd to us now, or hyperbolic, might just be a response to the real issues she faced. I think it’s hard for us girls alive today to realize how much the world we live in has changed – now we really don’t have the same kind of taboos to fight, so would never fight them as hard as she seems to try to in this book.

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