I came across my rather musky copy of “Fear of Flying” recently and memories of the read came flooding back to me. It was a permission giver for many women and reinforced my notion that women were as sexual as men, at least I was. Think I’ll read it again, and see how much my response to her words has changed.
Article in The Washington Post ‘Style’ section.
‘Fear of Flying’ author Erica Jong zips along 40 years after dropping her literary bombshell
By Neely Tucker, Published: October 7
Rarer is the phrase that catches some of the zeitgeist and holds it there, beating and alive, in its tiny little word count. Here resides “Greed is good” from the cash-obsessed late 1980s; “Big Brother,” from the late 1940s fear of totalitarian regimes; and “Catch-22,” from the authorities-are-idiots 1960s. (Note irony to today’s headlines!)
“The [ZF] is absolutely pure,” exults Isadora Wing, the 29-year-old heroine, in one memorable passage. “It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not ‘taking’ and the woman is not ‘giving’ . . . The [ZF] is the purest thing there is.”
It has been 40 years since “Fear” and its glamorous author landed like feminist blonde bombshells on American culture, selling 20 million copies here and abroad. The book mocked the idea that chaste was something smart women had to be, ridiculed the notion that children were the meaning of a woman’s life, and showed, both by narrative and by example, that the turbulent life of the artist was not only for men.
“I was aware I was committing a rebellious act,” Jong says down the line from her New York office, now 72 and still writing up a storm — essays, memoirs, poetry, fiction. “And I was sure no one would ever read it, no one would publish it.”
Is she kidding? Everybody read this. Women. Men. Teenagers, flipping through their mom’s paperback, looking for the dirty parts. John Updike famously reviewed it, comparing it to “Catcher in the Rye”; Henry Miller, who knew about sex in print, said it would make “literary history.”
It did, for there are two commemorative editions out to mark the anniversary, in both hardcover and paperback. The book continues to serve as a 1970s time capsule and, in its satire of the constraints still felt by professional and artistic women, still inspires.
“It was a cultural touchstone in the way that few books ever were, or can be now,” saysJennifer Weiner, whose own “Good in Bed” caused a sexual stir in 2001, and who wrote the introduction for one of the new editions of “Fear.” “If you asked women [of a certain age] about that book, most of them will have a very clear memory of it.”
Shelley Fisher Fishkin, an English professor and director of the American studies program at Stanford University, rates it as a direct descendant of Walt Whitman, in celebrating the body — but, in this telling, a woman’s body.
“It wasn’t unusual to have sex talk in a book,” Fishkin says. “It was unusual to have it in a woman’s head, in a woman’s point of view.”