CBR-V Review #19: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

Why I Read It: Because it’s a feminist classic and is kind of a must-read for all women who write, read, and consider themselves feminists.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Summary: Isadora Wing is bored. She’s on her second husband, a rather stuffy psychiatrist, and she’s looking for someone to shake things up in her now-predictable life. When she accompanies her husband to Austria for a conference, she meets Adrian Goodlove, and begins to explore and understand what it is she really wants, both emotionally and sexually.

My Review: I was kind of divided on this book–I loved some aspects of it and was lukewarm on others. It’s definitely an important book, and one that I’m glad was written, as it was definitely a game-changer back in the 70s when it was published. Isadora is a pretty amazing protagonist–she’s funny, smart, independent, and sexually liberated. She’s very frank about her sexuality, and the sexuality of humanity in general, and she (or, I suppose, Jong) has some very progressive views about a woman’s role in society, marriage, and attitudes towards sex. This book opened the door for women’s fiction, I think, and as a writer (and feminist reader) myself, I am deeply appreciative of what Jong accomplished.

That being said, I think this book is fairly dated. Although it was shocking at the time of publication, I thought it was very mild when it came to racy scenes and sexual explicitness. It is unusual for the level of sexuality that its heroine displays–it’s pretty cool to see a woman own her sexuality and make no secret of the fact that she has needs and desires that are just as valid as a man’s. Casual encounters are no big deal to Isadora; she’s not one to get sex and emotion confused. She goes for what she wants and doesn’t apologize. She’s honest and funny and at times the book read like a diary, or a gossip session with a best friend over cocktails. Isadora is a real woman and deserves her place in the pantheon of feminist heroines throughout literary history.

I also thought the writing was kind of sloppy and the plot was weak. The strengths of the novel lie in its ideas and in Isadora’s unique voice; all other elements were less than impressive. We’re inside Isadora’s head a bit too much, and there isn’t enough compelling action to balance all that navel-gazing out. For that reason I had a hard time staying engaged. It was Jong’s first book, which makes sense–I just felt like she needed a good editor to cut out some of the rambling and tighten up the prose.

Should You Read It: Yeah. It’s an important book, and one that really shifted a lot of attitudes and practices in writing.

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