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The loss of their mother tests the bond between siblings in “Flight”

By on November 3, 2022 0

Strong’s 2020 novel, the extremely good and critically acclaimed “Want,” featured a first-person narrator living on the fringes of the economy with her small family in Brooklyn. Elizabeth, who is not named until the very end of the book, always risks crossing a line.

Many of the characters in “Flight”—another energetic one-syllable title—cross troubling lines before the novel begins. Martin, the stable older brother, crossed a line with one of his college students – not sexual, but a misjudgment, chatting with one student about another. Alice, who is married to her younger brother Henry, bonded too closely with one of her social work clients, giving an abandoned phone to a child named Maddie and sending her messages of encouragement, a practice banned by her employer non-profit. Josh, married to Kate, the younger sister who feels Helen’s loss most deeply, has gutted his own inheritance with “botched investments”.

The family is reunited for their first Christmas without their beloved mother. Helen knew the importance of connection: “Helen was not religious. But in some years it got mixed up with Eastern religions of all kinds, made everyone meditate. Other years she made them go to church for the community. She believed in parties, in food, in gathering—baptism ceremonies instead of baptisms, St. Michael’s Day in some years, solstice feasts. . .”

The heavy elephant in the room is property. Helen died without a will; the only asset is his house in Florida, the place of so many family vacations. Kate wants the house, longs to raise her three children where she grew up, reenacting cherished childhood rituals and recipes. But in terms of grief and loss, physical objects, especially large ones like a childhood home, take on additional emotional weight. Martin’s wife, Tess, a lawyer, sees the house in strictly economic terms. If Kate and her husband, Josh, want it, they should just buy it. The family celebrates Christmas not in Florida, but in upstate New York, at the artist-turned-social-worker house Alice inherited from her grandmother.

There’s a lot of talk in “Flight” about the economic status of the characters. All face financial constraints, whether due to bad investments, bad behavior or excessive consumption. There are questions about varieties of work: whether child-rearing and domestic work for Kate constitute valued and legitimate work (she worries mainly about this). May Henry’s art – the flock of exquisite clay birds he makes in the barn of the house where the family stay, inspired by the urgency of climate change and the need for community – be called work in good faith.

The three couples are shielded at the start of the family reunion, shrouded in a membrane of judgment, criticizing their in-laws, their wives, shifting their grief over the loss of their mother, wondering if Kate and her husband “useless “Josh deserve the house. When a crisis arises – Alice’s client Maddie, almost 7, disappears – the family rallies together. The membrane that separates the characters is melting, as surely as winter snow will melt. They soften towards each other.

As older brother Martin looks at his family, he “sees them as a little good present. They’re not perfect: they fight, and maybe neither of them would have become friends if they hadn’t been forced to be together their whole lives. like a family. But they love each other and they love each other well enough.

Lynn Steger Strong’s writing is economical but packs a punch. In “Flight”, she explores different types of inheritance: the emotional solidity that we inherit – or not – from our parents; whether we will inherit a future as a planet if we don’t dramatically change our consumption habits. She also explores different forms of caregiving: from the tight control of stepdaughter Tess, born of childhood trauma, to the loving encouragement of her Helen-inspired daughter Kate (she affectionately calls her children “Ducks”, like the herd that ‘they are).

Henry hopes, as he works hard and daily in the barn, that his hanging clay birds will be “close enough that they look like a fluid thing from certain angles, far enough that they seem separate, still themselves”.

Strong accomplishes the same in his emotionally transcendent novel “Flight,” in which the individual characters, over the course of a three-day vacation, come together and become a functional aggregate, creating new depth in their loss.

Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a freelance writer and book reviewer.

Flight

Lynn Steger strong

Mariner, 232 pages, $27.99