(Reviewed by Guy Savage APR 7, 2007)
"She never made plans, and she never worried about the future. The future was there, ahead like a bubble or a sealed room, waiting patiently for the time when she would break the seal and enter it."
Author 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.
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Flight at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Flight (May 2005)
- Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies (May 2008)
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- Official website for Ginger Strand
- Beatrice postcards from Ginger Strand from Macdowell Colony
- The Washington Times review of Flight
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About the Author:
Ginger Strand grew up in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Her fiction and essays have appeared in many places, including Harper's, The Believer, The Iowa Review, The Gettysburg Review, Swink, Raritan, The New England Review, and Carolina Quarterly. She has received residency grants from The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the American Antiquarian Society, as well as a Tennessee Williams scholarship in fiction from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
She lives in New York City.