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Reprinted with permission from American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide (Jewish Publication Society).
In the 1960s, thanks to a series of court battles-often tried by Jewish lawyers–it became possible for reputable U.S. publishers to sell, without expurgation or bowdlerization, “dirty” books such as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and a moldy old pornographic romp by the name of Fanny Hill. A few years later, Philip Roth showed that dirty words and sexual frankness could be put to use in fiction both uproariously funny and, in its own way, deeply serious.
A talented 20-something poet and literary scholar named Erica Jong saw all of this going on, and said, in effect, why are the boys having all the fun? In 1973, she published Fear of Flying, an exuberant novel dripping with sex and satire that has gone on to sell over 12 million copies in–believe it or not–27 languages.
Jong’s highly autobiographical protagonist and narrator, Isadora White Stollerman Wing, grows up in a well-off but loopy New York Jewish family. As the novel begins, she is accompanying her second husband, a Chinese-American psychotherapist named Bennett Wing, to an international psychiatry conference in Vienna–the city, Isadora points out, that Freud fled in 1938. Apropos of this trip, and in good therapeutic fashion, Isadora spins out tales of her troubled childhood and early adulthood, her years in Heidelberg and in graduate school at Columbia, and all the woes of being a woman in a patriarchal world (“Growing up female in America. What a liability!”).
She soon finds the ironically named Adrian Goodlove, who, though often impotent, manages to tempt her away from her sullen and taciturn husband. As she guiltily pursues adultery and zips around Europe with Adrian, seeking the enlightenment of self-indulgence, she recounts the traumas of her life to date, including a disastrous first marriage to a brilliant young psychopath, a bizarre visit to her sister in Beirut in the mid-1960s, and all the therapy it took before she amassed enough confidence to submit her poetry to magazines.
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