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‘Flying Solo’ a sweet, simple, soaring read

July 27, 2022
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There’s something to be said for literary lightness.

Sure, sometimes we like to delve into dense tomes packed with esoteric vocabulary and deep themes and complicated plotting, all wound together in a stylistic experiment. “Great” literature and all that. But there’s value in relative simplicity when it comes to books.

Please do not conflate simplicity with simplistic, however – that’s not what I’m talking about. I just believe that there can be just as much merit to a breezy read as you’ll find in something with ostensibly loftier aspirations.

“Flying Solo” (Ballantine, $28), the new novel from Linda Holmes, is very much the former … and that’s a good thing. This is a book about a woman who returns to her hometown out of the twin senses of love and obligation. The reasons for her return are steeped in sadness, but as her stay proceeds, she finds herself learning more about the people she loves … and about herself.

As she stands at the crossroads of her old life and her new one, she is struck by the dichotomy of past and possibility – represented in this case by a relic from one person’s history whose deeper meaning is both obvious and opaque. To wit: it means something, but she’s not certain what. And we’ve all been there, yes?

Laurie Sassalyn is on the verge of turning 40 and her life is in … let’s just call it a period of uncertainty. She’s a science writer living in Seattle whose professional struggles, while significant, are dwarfed by the chaos in her personal life – specifically, the fact that she just called off her wedding mere weeks before the big day.

To top it all off, her beloved great-aunt has passed away at the ripe old age of 93. Dot was a safe haven for Laurie, providing a place to go when the noise of four rambunctious brothers proved to be too much. Now, it’s up to Laurie to return to her hometown – the coastal Maine town of Calcasset – to deal with Dot’s estate.

Even through her sadness, Laurie can see that Dot’s was a life well-lived. The house is packed with bric-a-brac and tchotchkes, representative of her globetrotting adventures. There are books and Polaroids and old letters, all of which contribute to the story of one woman’s embrace of the world’s possibilities.

And then there’s the duck.

Specifically, a wooden duck decoy that Laurie finds buried in a cedar chest. It’s a lovely piece of craftsmanship, but Dot was never a hunter or anything like that. Other than a cryptic clue found in one of the few love letters Laurie allows herself to read, there’s no real sense of why the duck is here and why it might have been important to Dot.

Laurie didn’t expect a handmade duck decoy to become a central part of her return to Calcasset, but hey – she’s well aware that life doesn’t always go the way we expect. Circumstances surrounding the duck result in all manner of surprises. Laurie’s connection with her childhood best friend is deepened and she reconnects with the first boy – now a man – that she ever loved. Oh, and she winds up knee-deep in intrigue, wandering into a world populated with folks who are considerably less savory than the company she usually keeps. It’s a full-on caper, with Laurie square in the center.

“Flying Solo” is precisely the sort of charming read that one might look for as a summer diversion. This is not a weighty story – even when it addresses some heavier themes, it is always in service of advancing the tale being told. Yes, it is light. It is also a delight.

What Holmes does so wonderfully is place us firmly inside the heads of her characters. One of the most difficult things for a writer to do is create a sense of familiarity; in Laurie, we’re given a character who will ring very true. We ALL know a Laurie, someone working their way through the world even as they are unsure of their ultimate place within it. She sees her own reflection in her efforts to reconstruct her late aunt’s life – a slightly skewed reflection, but a reflection nevertheless. It makes for a lovely character study.

Now, the narrative here is plenty engaging, gently shifting and veering as it does, but the truth is that “Flying Solo” is successful because of the people. We enjoy hanging out with Laurie and her friends. We enjoy being part of her rekindling relationships. It is, in short, all about the vibes.

Every one of us has been faced with a crossroads that leads us to confront deeper truths about our lives and ourselves. Linda Holmes has captured a version of that moment. This book is sweet and funny and a little sad. It’s a bit like life in that way. So if you’re looking to be whisked away on a lightweight literary adventure, dig into “Flying Solo.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 July 2022 09:08

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