Lynn Steger Strong’s Flight centers around a family gathering for the first Chirstmas after the matriarch Helen dies. Maybe it would have been better to read the story around the holidays after watching Home Alone, or maybe the misbegotten grief seemed artificial after having recently experienced it. I read through the book in a couple of days, but was left feeling empty at the end.
The three adult siblings, Martin, Henry, and Kate descend on a house in upstate New York to reconstruct a Christmas that will never be the same since their mother has recently died. Her recipes, her family games, her words of wisdom – all haunt the narrative as they struggle to avoid the usual family squabbles and tension. Helen’s house in Florida provides the bone of contention. Martin, the eldest and a professor recently placed on leave for his inappropriate comments to a student, and his wife, a successful but driven lawyer, want to sell and split the profits. Henry, an artist with a surreal attachment to the environment, and his wife, a former artist but now social worker to pay the bills, want to donate the land to the adjacent national bird sanctuary, and Kate, the youngest, wants the house for herself and her family to live in. Somehow, they thought Christmas would bring them all together and they would more easily come to an agreement. You may wonder what they were thinking, but this is fiction.
Mixed in with the angst and family tension are Quinn, a twenty-three year old recovering drug addict, and her daughter Maddie, both under the care of social worker Alice, who has never been able to have children of her own. This is Alice’s house, and she is a good Auntie, entertaining her nephews and nieces, making gingerbread slabs, buying sleds, and yearning to be a good surrogate mother to Maddie.
The conversations among the adults are anxious and sometimes unnerving, as they try to navigate their own issues as well as their place in a family. Most of the novel has the aspect of a weekly TV series, plodding along with everyday minutia, until Quinn leaves her young daughter alone to go out for a beer, and Maddie goes missing. The overnight search in the snow and forest brings out more inner turmoil among the adults, until a supposedly happy ending brings Christmas mercifully to an end.
The book would certainly provide good fodder for discussion at a book club with its epic family saga vibe and the unique character development offering perspective into sibling rivalry and loyalty. Let me know what you think of it after you read it.