Friday, May 2, 2014

Erica Jong Still Has A Fear Of Flying

Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong
Originally published in 1973 by Holt, Reinhardt and Winston, Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong was the right book at the right time. It became more than the best-selling story of Isadora Wing. It became a beacon in an era struggling to find a new way of thinking about gender, sexuality, and liberty in society.

Within the context of that era, the novel becomes an iconic tale of self-discovery, liberation, and womanhood in that it dispelled old stereotypes while granting women permission to be as exuberant about their sex as they might be about their globetrotting adventures. For some, it would even help them find their own voices rather than submit to the one society had fashioned for them.

Fear Of Flying is the tale of a hilarious anti-heroine.

At the heart of it, Fear Of Flying is about a 29-year-old poet and her decision to trade away her husband for an uninhibited Laingain analyst named Adrian Goodlove. The two of them, Wing and Goodlove, originally meet at a psychology conference where Wing has trouble with her registration.

Despite working on an article for Voyeur magazine, she doesn't have the right credentials. Goodlove promises to help her out, but it's also very clear that he isn't talking exclusively about the conference. She is delighted by his advances, enough so that she (somewhat reluctantly) gives in to her desire to have brief and anonymous encounter with another man, which she concisely describes as zipless.

Except, Goodlove doesn't turn out to be the zipless encounter she had in mind. She follows him around like a pet for 28 days, making more discriminating critics wonder whether she may have had more liberty before she cast off her husband for the man she hoped could provide for her happiness.

And therein lies the real problem with the novel. While most people consider the sexual frankness to be the polarizing aspect of the book, the real culprit is that Wing wants to break with society and not her individual circumstance. The frank sexuality within the story merely masks this fact.

In many cases, you can see the split in reader reviews. Women who are less comfortable with their own sexuality tend to rate it much higher than those already liberated (and wonder why Wing doesn't provide for her own happiness). While these is nothing wrong with this, it does prove that the novel isn't nearly as timeless as it once hoped to be. The context of the era in which is was published is lost.

In more ways than one, Wing is very much a female counterpart to John Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, except Angstorm doesn't have it nearly as good. Wing is never obliged to suffer real consequences after attempting to fill an emptiness within her life with an affair.

Ironically, it is her lack of suffering enamored many people, Updike included. Wing was very likely one of the first female protagonists bold enough to explore her sexuality without the repercussion of death. Too bad the power of this uniqueness feels diminished in a world that has long since moved beyond it.

A couple more graphs about Erica Jong. 

Erica Jong
Despite its shortcomings that prevent it from being truly timeless as much as a snapshot of the times, Fear Of Flying was still a breakout debut for a young Barnard College English literate graduate. There is no doubt that she addressed the conflicts experienced by women in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

While not autobiographical, Jong also successfully blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography. She borrowed much of it from her eccentric upbringing and her own flawed marriages. Her debut and continued authenticity in talking about her life — anything and everything from her chronic fear of failure to sexual experimentation — can be heralded for her sheer tenacity if not literary talent.

Fear Of Flying By Erica Jong Takes Off 3.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Much like Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs but unlike Rabbit Run by John Updike, Fear Of Flying struggles to remain relevant when out of the era in which was it written. So while Jong broke the mold for women writers to use language typically thought unladylike, it sometimes seems that her action as a writer remains more important than the actual writing.

Fear of Flying can be found on Amazon. You can also download the novel from iBooks or order Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong by Barnes & Noble. The novel is still worth sharing with some, provided they always keep the context of the era in mind. The novel tends not to, even when its helped along by narrator Hope Davis as an audiobook.
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