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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I'm Reading: Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home: A Novel
While on vacation I read Jennifer Weiner's latest Fly Away Home. Those of you who follow my reports/reviews on what I have read know that I do not read a lot of Women's Fiction but I do enjoy Weiner's novels (and that is not just because she is married to my friend).

After finishing Fly Away Home, in my opinion, it is Weiner's best novel. It is her most mature both in subject matter and writing style, and is an excellent entry what I sometimes find, in less capable hands, an overly sappy  genre.

The plot is fairly straightforward; the interest in the story lies in its characters and how Weiner chooses to unravel the story through their eyes.

We have 3 narrators here. They are the three women of one family. There is the approximately 60 year old mother, Sylvie, who has been long married to the senior Senator from New York. She has willingly and happily given up her career as a lawyer to manage her husband's affairs. They are in love and mutually respect one and other; however, it their pursuit of his goal to be President of the United States, they may not have made the best parenting choices.

The book opens with Sylvie learning via CNN  that her husband has cheated on her with a staffer. This information throws Sylvie's life into chaos and the rest of the book is her attempt to get her life in some semblance of order.

The chapters alternate between Sylvie's point of view and her 2 daughters. Diana is the older daughter, the over achiever daughter. She is currently the mother of a young son, unhappily married, an emergency room doctor, and having a passionate affair with another doctor. Lizzie is the younger daughter, a recovering drug addict, a burgeoning photographer, and just simply looking for her place in the world.


The novel follows these 3 women as they come to terms with their personal demons and come together as a family. Whether or not you will like this book depends on how you feel about the characters and their decisions.

Let me explain. This book is heat-breakingly honest and offers no easy answers. Our three main characters are all greatly flawed. I really do not agree with the decisions any of them make, but as the book ends, they have made their proverbial beds and are attempting to lie in them, live with their mistakes and begin their lives anew. Also, the way the book concludes, there is hope, but no guarantees for these characters as they have made some tough decisions, appear to be on he road to happiness, but could still easily fall flat on their faces again.

I liked this departure for Weiner, whose heroines in the past tended to be a bit too perfect. She is trusting her readers will trust he in her ability to make us care about these flawed women whether or not we agree with them. Her writing and honesty pull it all together for me. However, on the flip side, I have looked at customer comments and many regular Weiner readers are disappointed for exactly the reasons I liked the book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Multi-generational, family crisis, flawed characters

Readalikes: Weiner makes reference to the real life wives of politicans who were forced to deal with an infidelity scandal in a public forum.  Readers who want to read more on this should try the memoirs of Elizabeth Edwards or Jenny Sanford.

Weiner also thanks Curtis Sittenfeld in this novel and her American Wife would also be a great readalike option here.

I read A Year By the Sea by Joan Anderson about 9 years ago for the BPL Book Discussion group, and I could not stop thinking about it while reading Fly Away Home. I would also suggest Dream When You Are Feeling Blue  by Elizabeth Berg (which I read here).

Books by Anne Tyler, Ayelet Waldman, and Jonathan Topper are also all great readalikes for Weiner.

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