When I first read Erica Jong’s "Fear of Flying," I was 22 and on a plane going from Athens to Tel Aviv. The book had been published in 1973 – and when it found me, it was 1979 – and I was enroute to Israel and also In Flight -- from my life as a Nice Jewish Girl from New Jersey. And while Jong’s heroine – Isadora Wing was a product of post-war New York City's combination of bourgeois and bohemian culture – almost every word out of her heroine’s mouth seemed torn from my own soul. And as I made my way through Israel and Europe that year – she kept me laughing and courageous as I met my own Adrian Goodloves , Bennett Wing’s and crazy lovers.
All of the critics and the reviewers talked about the sexual fantasies in the book as the source of its appeal – her description of the Zipless Fuck has been quoted and cited millions of times. But that wasn’t what so enraptured me when I first read "Fear of Flying" on that plane.
What so enraptured me was Erica Jong’s voice in the novel: Funny, Brazen, Jewish, oh-so-neurotic – and full of longing: Isadora Wing’s “I Want, I Want!” seemed to be the female counterpart of Saul Bellow’s Herzog – whose hero also Wanted and Wanted…
She had me at the equivalent of a Novelist’s Hello. The beginning of the book goes like this: “There were 117 psychoanalysts on the Pan Am flight to Vienna and I’d been treated by at least sixth of them. And married a seventh. God knows it was a tribute to either my shrinks’ ineptitude or my own glorious unanalyzability that I was now, If anything, more scared of flying than when I began my analytic adventures 13 years earlier.”
Like other women of my generation that year, I was also reading Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook “ and was breathlessly devouring – or at least pretending to -- “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir. But it was Jong’s book that combined the humor and the pathos and the sex. Her voice seemed able to articulate all the conflicts and fears and dreams that I had. Her descriptions of the Upper West Side Apartment where her heroine Isadora grew up and the specific neuroses and hopes engendered there – seemed akin to me. And so did the conflicts about sex -- and the desire to write – or at least have enough adventures to write about that resonated for me.
Her words still do. More than 30 years later , Erica Jong and her creation – Isadora Wing still make me want to Fly – and Live.