Monday, October 17, 2011

'Fly Away Home' entertaining, but perhaps inappropriate for family time

In preparation for a 28-hour (roundtrip) car trip with my folks to the St. Louis area for my cousin's wedding last weekend, I went to the local library and checked out four audiobooks. I picked the last in the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (which I'd been meaning to read anyway); Jennifer Weiner's "Fly Away Home" (chick lit - sure to please my mom); John Irving's latest, "Last Night In Twisted River," which clocked in at an impressive 24 hours (but I feared we might not finish during the trip); and Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol," a thriller I thought might hold my stepdad's interest.

Before we set off, I let my mom choose which book she'd like to listen to for the trip. (It was her car, after all). She picked Weiner's novel, "Fly Away Home," read by actress Judith Light. The novel (Simon & Schuster, 2011, 432 pp., trade paperback, $17. Audio version currently selling for about $30 on promised to occupy 14 hours of our trip.

Mom wasn't familiar with Weiner's books, but her interest was piqued when I told her that the author had worked, for a time in the 1990s, as a reporter for her local State College newspaper, The Centre Daily Times. I also mentioned that Weiner's novel "In Her Shoes" had been made into a movie featuring Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley MacLaine. Mom didn't recall seeing the movie, but she was sold.

And so we started off on a beautiful, unseasonably warm fall day, heading east on Route 80 and acquainting ourselves with the Woodruff family. The novel is told, in turn, from the view points of Sylvie (Serfer) Woodruff, 57, a senator's wife and judge's daughter, and her two grown daughters, Diana and Lizzie.

Click here to see a video of Weiner and Light talking about the book.
Click here for a YouTube recording of the first chapter. Here you can read the first chapter.

Sylvie's life seems almost picture perfect. She's still very much in love with her husband of several decades, but her own desires have gotten lost in the shuffle of managing his life. Though Sylvie has a law degree, her job for year has been taking care of her husband, Richard. And, as she calls it, being a professional dieter to keep herself thin for photos and appearances.

Her daughter Diana, around 29, is a successful ER physician in Philly with a young son and a husband with a good career. Younger daughter Lizzie, 24, is a recovering drug addict, and is fresh out of rehab when we meet her.

Her husband Richard is a New York state senator, esteemed, popular and seemingly beyond reproach. But we discover pretty quickly that Richard has been having a dalliance with a much younger staffer. Sylvie has no idea about the transgression until the story breaks on TV one day, as she's traveling home from yet another day of being her husband's rock.

Let me pause here to add that I've read all of Weiner's novels except the latest one, "Then Came You," which was just published in July. I recall characters I could relate to, and some sexual innuendo, sure, in the books with names such as "Good in Bed" and "Certain Girls." But I never expected some of the language I heard while whizzing down the interstate in the car with my mom and stepdad. I will not repeat these things, which would not have been so shocking had a not been sitting next to my ma. But be forewarned that there are some sexy passages in "Fly Away Home."

You see, Diana, for all her hard work and perfect life, is unsatisfied in her marriage. She's got a humdinger of an affair going on with a hunky younger guy at work. And they do it. A LOT. In ways that - and using language that - certainly had my stepdad taking interest in the story. And Lizzie, too, has some intimate moments, current and remembered, that got a little sticky while hearing about them an arm's distance from my 'rents.

At one point fairly early on that first day in the car, as I blushed at one of Diana's energetic encounters with her beau, I took out my iPhone and tweeted Weiner (who resides in the Philly area, by the way). She gamely responded. Here's that exchange:

@jenniferweiner Listening to the audiobook of "Fly Away Home" on a long car trip w/ my folks. My, there are a lot of sexy passages! #awkward

@mercbiz Oof. A thousand pardons. It is not, in fact, fun for the whole family.

Nonetheless, I felt like the prude of the bunch on this car trip, for sure. My mom and stepdad became engrossed in the tale and didn't let some sexy writing get in the way of their enjoying the story. My stepdad actually learned the names of the characters and followed along. And not just for the juicy bits.

The family saga/love story that's both funny and sad is highly entertaining. It's several stories in one, blended together gracefully.

I was quite impressed with the vocal stylings of Judith Light ("Who's The Boss?"), who did distinct voices for all the characters, which included Sylvie's hard-nosed, old-school Brooklyn-accented mother and her 6-year-old grandson, Milo.

In the end Sylvie makes choices that change her life and the lives of everyone in her family. The route she takes from the backseat of a limo screaming down the New Jersey turnpike while watching the shocking news about her husband's affair to making firm and empowered decisions about the fate of her marriage and her future is intriguing. This would be a great beach read or weekend escape.

I'd like to add that after the audiobook had run its course, and we were not quite back from our St. Louis trip (maybe somewhere in Ohio?), my stepdad said thoughtfully that there had to be more - he wanted to know more about the characters. He was especially concerned with what would become of Diana's "mouth-breathing" whiny husband, Gary, and about Lizzie and what would become of her. I'd say that makes a great story, when you want to know more.

"Fly Away Home" is worth the trip. But you may want to leave your parents at home.

About the author (from her website):

Jennifer Weiner was born in 1970 on an army base in Louisiana. She grew up in Connecticut and graduated with a degree in English literature from Princeton University in 1991. She worked as a newspaper reporter in central Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Philadelphia until the publication of her first novel in 2001, and has been a full-time fiction writer ever since.

Her books include GOOD IN BED (2001); IN HER SHOES (2002), which was turned into a major motion picture starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine; LITTLE EARTHQUAKES, (2004); GOODNIGHT NOBODY (2005); the short story collection THE GUY NOT TAKEN (2006); CERTAIN GIRLS (2008), the sequel to GOOD IN BED, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER (2009); FLY AWAY HOME (2010); and THEN CAME YOU (2011). She is also the co-creator and executive producer of the (now canceled) ABC Family show State of Georgia.

Weiner is married with two daughters and makes her home in Philadelphia. She's active on Twitter and, according to Wikipedia, Weiner is "known for 'live-tweeting' episodes of the reality dating shows "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." (very true)  

Learn more about Weiner on her website.


Katie McVay said...

Wow, I can imagine that was a pretty awkward situation for you. I think I would've contemplated jumping out of the car... Anyway, because of your review, I have added another book to my to-read list. Thanks. I think. ;-)

Michelle Karas said...

Well, Katie, it DID cross my mind!! Yes, there were some awkward moments, but impressively, the story held everybody's attention.