Tag Archives: “Flight”

FLIGHT by Ginger Strand

Back in April 2007, I wrote a post about a book called Flight by Ginger Strand. I had read a review of it and was intrigued. Tonight, I finished it. It took me a long time to read it, not because it was a long book, but because I didn’t particularly enjoy it.

The book is about a nuclear family – mom, dad, two grown daughters – who converge on the parents’ home on the eve of the youngest daughter’s wedding. This is not a subtle book – each of the characters is in varying degrees of fleeing from a bad relationship, whether it’s a long marriage, a shorter one, or one that hasn’t even taken place yet – hence the title. Also, the father is an airline pilot, and 9/11 is supposed to be looming in the background, ostensibly causing the characters to reexamine their lives amidst the realization of its frailty.

It doesn’t sound so bad. But here’s why I didn’t like it. While I usually enjoy family dramas, I found this one suffocating. Strand’s best attributes as a writer, in my opinion, worked to her disadvatange here. Her eye for detail is pretty amazing – her ability to construct wholly believable scenes and convey the layers of family relationships through realistic dialogue and precisely drawn actions is very impressive. However, I felt like I was reading this book in real time – that I was actually living this 48-hour period along with this unhappy family. I wanted out. I wanted to go somewhere else and get away from them, to shed the burden of experiencing their lives. This is not a good quality in a novel.

I also didn’t like the characters. They are each frustrating and somewhat unlikeable. I just didn’t care if the youngest went through with her wedding or if the parents worked out their issues. That’s another fatal flaw for me – if I just don’t care what happens, I have a hard time getting through the book.

I could go on – some subplots that didn’t get enough attention or resolution, for example – but suffice it to say I just didn’t love this book. Strand is clearly a very talented writer – as I mentioned, her gift for detail and precision is remarkable – but the plot and characters on this one just didn’t do it for me. I read to escape, and this book felt like a prison.

FLIGHT by Ginger Strand

I receive an e-newsletter from Mostly Fiction every week or two, which contains links to a number of recent reviews.  This week, a book called Flight, by Ginger Strand, caught my eye. Here is the whole review:

StrandAuthor Ginger Strand dissects the subtle dynamics of family life in her debut novel Flight. While a daughter’s marriage heralds a fundamental structural change in any family, the Gruens are at a crisis point in their lives—they just don’t realize it. Father–Will—is almost 60—and as a commercial airline pilot that means mandatory retirement. But he’s not ready to retire, and with a past history of not consulting his wife in important family decisions, he’s secretly applied for a job in Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific Airlines. Meanwhile, Carol, his wife, has plans of her own and is determined to turn their rural Michigan home into a bed and breakfast.

The novel begins on a Wednesday, and it’s the day that married daughter Margaret, her husband David and their small child are due to arrive to celebrate younger sister, Leanne’s wedding. Leanne and her filmmaker fiancé Kit are flying in from New York for the small wedding scheduled to take place on Saturday. Both daughters arrive with a set of problems that they try to keep to themselves amid the strain and the hustle and bustle of last minute wedding arrangements.

Author Strand deftly explores each of her main characters’ secret thoughts and fears over the course of the days leading up to the wedding. In the case of Will and Carol, there’s almost 40 years worth of resentments and unspoken negotiation simmering under the surface of their marriage, and Will has yet to deal with his experiences as a pilot in Vietnam—a period that left a much deeper mark than he is willing to admit.  As a pilot for a passenger airline, the events of 9-11 have opened some old wounds. He finds himself suddenly aware of the transient nature of life and sees threats of danger at every turn. He dismisses Carol’s imminent plans to open a bed and breakfast as yet another fantasy in her series of ambitions—she’s had plenty of those during their marriage, and Will doesn’t stop to consider the factors behind her many aborted plans. Rather than confront Carol about the fact that he doesn’t want his home invaded by paying guests, he chooses to ignore the signs that her plans are surging ahead.

Strand’s characters are extremely well defined and subtly nuanced. Sisters Margaret and Leanne are effectively portrayed as polar opposites. Margaret, a professor, has always managed to achieve the goals she’s set for herself, and on the surface, her life seems perfect. She has an excellent job at a prestigious university, but her “open” marriage is about to explode with disastrous consequences. Leanne is not as focused as Margaret, and is not particularly ambitious. In many ways, Leanne’s tendency to drift “caught in a slipstream, pulled forward in the wake of others” most resembles her mother’s habit of dreaming up ideas and never completing anything. Oddly enough, though, Carol is most proud of Margaret and her drive to accomplish, and yet Carol finds it easier to communicate with Leanne. Will, on the other hand, finds it easier to talk to Margaret—in spite of her tendency to sourness.

When it comes to analyzing family dynamics, the author is spot on. Carefully detailed scenes depict the subtly of the things not said, the trigger points, and the discreet implications of the long history these characters share with one another. In one marvelous scene, Margaret commandeers the cooking of shrimp, and while she effectively trumps her mother’s hostess efforts, her mother plays her ace card when she mentions Margaret’s old beau. These well-placed jabs—along with the occasional dropped informational bombshell capture the complicated interpersonal relationships of this very normal family at a highpoint of their collective lives.

Here is an interview with Ginger Strand from Princeton Alumni Weekly (she’s a year younger than I am – depressing).

Please let me know if any of you decide to read this book – I am intrigued.