I have finished book #54 of the year, and it’s one that I had never heard of. Which kind of makes sense considering my background and the content of the book, but is also disappointing considering how important and unprecedented this book is supposed to have been.
It is called Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong and it was originally published in 1973. I stumbled upon this book on a friend’s bookshelf, but if I hadn’t I think I would have gone on knowing nothing about. Which is sad, because this was thought to have revolutionized women’s authorship and all of that, so why aren’t we all talking about it?
Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. The unprecedented-ness of it comes from all of the talk about sex, promiscuity, and a female lead character being generally unpredictable, something that was virtually unheard of from female authors at this time.
But even more than the whole “shocking” nature of the book, I loved it for the main character and narrator, Isadora Zelda Wing. The entire book was like this intimate conversation she was deeming you, the reader, worthy to take part in. Isadora also had autobiographical elements, which made Erica Jong even more interesting to me.
So the book is about Isadora, obviously, and her lifelong struggle to find someone to love, someone to satisfy her, and ultimately life’s meaning as a woman. She’s so conflicted and contradictory and indecisive, I think she’d be an annoying narrator if she was so endearing in her relatability (not a word).
The reader meets Isadora as she’s traveling to a conference for psychoanalysts in Germany. She’s seen her fair share of analysts, and begins the book married to one. I loved this detail, because as you go on reading it’s like each new chapter is a new therapy session with Isadora in which she’s walking you, her therapist, through her childhood, her introduction to her sexuality, her first marriage, her overall restlessness, etc.
But she’s so familiar with the psychological world that she stays one step ahead, self-diagnosing all of her impulses and desires. It was such a clever way for her narrative voice to come through completely. The whole book was clever, and never felt rambling like you might expect.
And all of it is still so applicable, more than forty years after it was first published. It really is a genius book, worthy of the extensive praise, and I’m only disappointed that I didn’t know it existed until now. Though now is probably the best time for me to have stumbled upon it; it’s especially relevant to women navigating their twenties.
Erica Jong apparently went on to write 20+ more books. If all her characters are as inspired as Isadora, I’m going to have to look into this author. ◊
Whenever I was home, I wanted to get away, and whenever I got away I wanted to go home again. What do you call that? An existential dilemma? The oppression of women? The human condition? It was unbearable then and it’s unbearable now: back and forth I go over the net of my own ambivalence. As soon as I touch the ground, I want to bounce up and fly right back. So what do I do? I laugh.”
– page 324