Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not afraid to fly

It isn't often that I get to read a feminist book. But when I do, I make sure it counts. So I'm glad that another book club chose to read Erica Jong's seminal novel, Fear of Flying. If this isn't a feminist novel, then I don't really know what is. It tackles a lot of issues: female sexuality, sexual freedom, women's liberation, female psychology, family dynamics, and even religious (Jewish) themes.

The person who's afraid of flying is one named Isadora Wing. At the start of the novel, she's 29 years old, once divorced, and is currently married to a psychologist of Asian-American descent named Bennett. The marriage is by all means not an unhappy one, but Isadora is flighty. She has too many issues, too many questions, that she needs to figure out. And it doesn't help that she has to go with her husband in his conference in Austria, especially with her fear of flying.

One immediately wonders why she would choose to have an affair with another psychologist named Adrian. For one, he couldn't get it up. And another, he seems hell-bent on psychoanalyzing Isadora's every move. When they escape to the countryside, all these two have are profound conversations. Perhaps Isadora is looking for a change: from Bennett's clear-cut, rule-abiding persona to Adrian's brash, in-the-moment way of thinking. We would never know, wouldn't we? And I think that's the point of the novel.

You see, no matter what confusing choices Isadora makes, no matter the foolish repercussions of these choices, what's more important is that she was able to make these choices. She alone is to be blamed for these choices. After all, isn't women's lib all about the freedom to choose? In the '60s and '70s, women were slowly being given these choices. Some, like Erica Jong, embraced this freedom. The result is this wonderfully semi-autobiographical novel that is Fear of Flying.

In the novel, we see Isadora go against the tide. She refuses to bear any children, she decides to leave her first husband when the relationship has turned abusive, she acts on a whim even though she knows she'll regret her actions later. All of these boil down to choices. She is her own person. And you know why she does these things? Because she can.

It would be nice to meet Isadora in real life. I can just imagine the conversations I would have with her. She may not sound rational at times, but that's one of the pleasures of being with her. In the novel, Isadora is very learned, having a degree in literature and even being a lecturer on 18th century literature. Ah, just at the turn of the 20th century, it was impossible for women to have academic degrees. Isadora's choice of profession even goes against the wishes of her family, who seem to think that one needs to make money to become truly successful. Isadora would have none of that. She just loves books. Ergo, literature.

Unlike Isadora, I've no fear of flying. I love it, in fact.
It was fascinating to hear the thoughts about Fear of Flying from the members of another book club. It was my first time to attend their discussion. I must say that there isn't that much difference to discussing books. Just a few questions thrown to the group, with everyone being free to pipe in. Jong's novel is very polarizing. A few hated it for its crass language and Isadora's irrational behavior. A few commented on how the novel was groundbreaking for its time. I agree with the latter. Jong's honesty in her narrative is very refreshing. With the words "fuck" and "penis" occurring on every page, it can certainly be shocking. But let's face it, if it were a man writing those words back in the '70s, there wouldn't be any controversy.

I'm one of the people who love Fear of Flying. I think it's primarily because of Isadora. The novel may not have a very distinct plot, but I enjoyed reading about Isadora's journey of transformation. She was unsure of herself at the start of the novel. By the novel's end, she has realized that she indeed has choices that she alone can make and that she has to learn to be comfortable with these choices. The transformation is far from over in the last chapter, but at least the beginnings are there. Transformation and realization, I like.

The discussion was held in a wine cellar.
I had this fruity, Argentinian wine with Marie, the moderator.
I think I must have finished 3 glasses. Hehehe.
Read this book if:

  1. You've always been curious about feminist litereature.
  2. You love reading about sex.
  3. You're into semi-autobiographical novels.


Kaz said...

Good for you Peter! I loved this too - read it years and years ago. You might enjoy Marge Piercey's books - she's another important feminist novelist. The other one - you like fantasy, don't you? - is Sherri Tepper. Feminist, post-apocalyptic, fantasy - VERY clever.

Monique said...

Glad to have you (and Rhett) there, Peter! It makes me really sad now that I won't be able to make it to the joint discussion next month. :((

Peter S. said...

Hi, Kaz! Thanks for the recommendations! I will keep those in mind.

Hello, Monique! Oh? That's quite unfortunate! Anyway, I'm sure there'll be a next time.

Anonymous said...

It was fun chatting and sipping wine with you. I'm really glad you attended an "official" discussion. XD See you in September!

Louize Gonzales said...

Thank you for joining us, Peter!
I am really glad to finally meet you in person. ♥

Peter S. said...

Hi, Angus! I had a jolly good time! Thanks for the wonderful company!

Hello, Louize! Finally! And thank you so much for the book!

Tin said...

I'm on the "groundbreaking for its time" team too. They say a movie adaptation is on the way. We did some dream casting at the Fear of Flying online discussion thread, for Isadora, Bennett and Adrian. Maggie Gyllenhaal came up. And Michelle Williams, Ewan McGregor, Jude Law...Any ideas as to who you think will do justice to the 3 main roles? :)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Tin! Oh, how fun!

Yes! I complete agree with the Maggie Gyllenhaal casting! Hehehehehehe.

Missie said...

This sounds interesting but a bit outside my normal reading comfort zone!
New follower :)
Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

Peter S. said...

Hi, Missie! Thanks for the visit!

Sonia said...

sounds wonderful. I'll give it a go.

Peter S. said...

Oh, it is!