In 1973, Erica Jong unleashed a literary earthquake with Fear of Flying, a groundbreaking novel that was both reviled and celebrated for its sexy scenes and feminist views.
This October marks the 40th year that Flying has been aloft — the book never went out of print — and Jong, now 71, is just as outspoken as ever about politics, women's rights and sex in the 21st century.
"I'm hoping that the women who read it 30 or 40 years ago will pick it up again and pass it on to younger generations," Jong says. "My desire is that they'll share it with their daughters and granddaughters."
It's clear that the author views her creation differently than many of its first readers did.
"I published this novel that puritans perceived to be sexy, but I didn't see it that way," says Jong. "I thought it was the story of a woman trying to figure out her life. I still think that's what it is."
The semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Isadora Wing, a young woman struggling to liberate herself from society's narrow definition of gender roles. Isadora wants to feel free to satisfy her sexual desires, meet her creative needs and throw off societal pressures to find fulfillment through motherhood.
"From the moment the book was published," Jong recalls, "it evoked enormous controversy. Half the people hated it; the other half loved it. When people are arguing about a book, I think that means you've unlocked feelings." To this day, says Jong, people tell her, "You've written the story of my life!"
To celebrate the book's anniversary, two special editions are being published. Fear of Flying: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition came out Sept. 24 in paperback, with a new introduction by Smash creator Theresa Rebeck. On Oct. 8, Fear of Flying: 40th Anniversary Edition appears in hardcover with a new introduction by novelist Jennifer Weiner.
"Fear of Flying opened the door for an entire generation of women writers," says Weiner, the author of Certain Girls and Good in Bed.