Tuesday, September 27

Fly Away Home – Jennifer Weiner

Sylvie Serfer has subsumed her life in service to her husband’s political career without any sense of sacrifice – the incessant calorie counting, tightly pinching shapewear, coloured and painstakingly straightened hair, never ending briefings and engagements, the secondary importance of her daughters to Richard have all been her willing contributions to their success. They’re a team, working toward a common goal since their college days thirty years earlier. That all changes in an instant, when Sylvie’s best friend Cecil breaks the news that, according to reports on every network, Richard has apparently had an affair with a staffer.
The news not only affects Richard and Sylvie’s lives but the lives of their very different daughters. Diana is a prototypical eldest child, high achieving and determined to have everything – marriage to a man who’ll never let her down, a well-raised child exposed only to healthy food and wholesome viewing, and a professional identity in medicine. From the outside she has everything, but her carefully constructed life was already cracking, and the one thing she really craves is no more likely than ever before – her parents’ unconditional love and attention. Lizzie could not be more different – from early adolescence she’s sought from drugs solace, absence and the filling of a soul-deep emptiness. Clean after her latest detox, Lizzie is managing to keep all her balls in the air and is caring for Diana’s son Milo, but therapy hasn’t managed to repair her past. The revelation of Richard’s affair acts as the catalyst for change, changed perceptions, and the revelations of secrets and truths for the whole family.
Fly Away Home is an engrossing novel that engaged me on several levels – a fan of TheGoodWife, I was interested in an exploration of what these scandals may be like on the inside, but it was Weiner’s characters that kept me turning pages. Richard is the closest to a cipher, for most of the novel acting more significantly as a catalyst than as a character. Diana’s losses of control and the tensions that cause is really well conveyed; LLizzie’s attempts at refashioning her life are admirable and feel real; and Sylvie is a complex character who, despite being betrayed, is no saint – her uxorial devotion to Richard has caused a profound emotional neglect of her daughters that created the strongest resonance for me. My only disappointment with Fly Away Home was that, except for Sylvie’s response to the affair and its related aftermath, there’s preciously little anger. This was most significantly the case with Lizzie, who I hoped would be able to give voice to feelings of betrayal and abandonment at events (and, more crucially, her parents’ responses to them) that clearly contributed to her life path, but Diana has been aware from a young age how much their childhoods were shaped around the father's career, their mothe's priorotising this over their best interets, and the expectation that follows them into adulthood, and isn't angry either.
I’ve enjoyed Weiner’s work since Good in Bed, though I've found her recent work somewhat mixed, and Fly Away Home (apparently written earlier and recently recrafted and updated for publication) delivers a similar combination of satisfyingly rounded and layered characters, intelligent and believable dialogue, and a compelling plot. - Alex

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