(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Fear of Flying is the story of a woman’s search for herself. On the surface it takes place during and after a psychoanalytic convention in Vienna, Austria, but since it is a record of the meanderings of Isadora’s mind, readers are led back and forth in her life, to and through her childhood, her first marriage and its breakup, and her relationships between her two marriages.

The story begins on the airplane to Vienna, where Isadora is accompanying her husband to the conference. The conference itself is to be a welcoming-home of psychoanalysis to the city from which Sigmund Freud fled before the Nazis in 1938. Isadora herself has a responsibility, since she has been assigned by a magazine called Voyeur to write an article on the conference. However, for all intents and purposes she is the traditional wife, going along for the ride.

The ride is the first problem. The book’s title explains it: Isadora has a phobia about flying. Nevertheless, she grits her teeth and flies, concentrating mentally in her belief that she is in this way helping keep the plane aloft. In the same way, she handles her other fear of flying as well, flying being a metaphor for taking off and taking charge of her own life. Terrified, she takes off anyway on whatever adventures present themselves, trying to learn thereby who she is and what she is after.

A large part of Isadora’s musings and wonderings are sexual. She fantasizes about faceless, anonymous sexual encounters with strangers, and the book is extremely graphic, both in language and content, as she describes her imaginary, and later real, adventures in detail. No sooner do Isadora and Bennett arrive at the conference than she meets the man who will be the focus of her sexual thoughts and actions, another analyst named Adrian Goodlove. The two are instantly attracted to each other, and the rest of the...

(The entire section is 774 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Isadora Wing, a young Jewish poet living in New York, accompanies her psychiatrist husband, Bennett Wing, to a psychoanalysts’ conference in Vienna and then goes off with a lover she meets there. En route to the conference, she confesses that she is frightened of flying (a metaphor for her fear of independence and of taking risks) even though she had been treated by several of the psychiatrists on the flight to the conference.

In Vienna, Isadora meets Adrian Goodlove, an English psychoanalyst. She is strongly attracted to him (and he to her, apparently), and they flirt outrageously, go out together, and sleep together; turns out that he is better as a sexual fantasy than as an actual sexual partner because he is often impotent.

Adrian taunts Isadora about being trapped in the safe role of bourgeois wife and dares her to join him on a jaunt across Europe, saying she needs to learn to take risks and that he can give her an experience that will really change her. Isadora feels pulled in two directions: toward the security of life with Bennett, whom she feels loves her, and the urge to break out of a confining situation. She decides to return to New York with her husband but then suddenly changes her mind at Adrian’s urging, and the two set out in his Triumph sports car. Adrian lectures her to not be afraid of what is inside her and insists that he will be her teacher.

Drinking, arguing, and making love, they make their way to...

(The entire section is 582 words.)