Friday, January 7, 2011

Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner

My family spent New Year's Eve at my mother-in-law's. Also present: my brother-in-law and his family -- in for the weekend from Connecticut -- and the widower and kids of my sister-in-law (she passed away two-years ago). Three families, all packed into one house. It was a classic setup, had all the elements of a juicy novel: a family (who has the potential to push our buttons and introduce conflict more than our own family?); a house (it kept us close to one another, forcing us to interact); and a holiday (what good's a holiday if not to serve as a vehicle for expectations just waiting to be dashed.)

This is the bread and butter of what I like to call "easy-reading," a broad category which includes genres like chick-lit. One of my favorite "easy-reading" authors is Jonathan Tropper, who used these exact devices in "This is Where I Leave You," using the shiva of the patriarch of a family to conveniently entrap his descendants in a house for 7 days. In "Fly Away Home" Jennifer Weiner places Silvie, the disgraced wife of a politician, in a New England cottage where her daughters, boyfriend and estranged husband all swoop in for Thanksgiving dinner. Weiner, like Tropper, is a master at character and plot. I won't give away what transpires with Sylvie and her family, suffice it to say that Weiner has given us a fun, satisfying story.

Like a juicy novel New Year's Eve at my mother-in-law's didn't disappoint. There were the usual small plot points: me, my mother and sister-in-law wearing concerned expressions, sitting around the kitchen table late at night, rehashing the lurid details of the misfortune of other family members (Can you spell schadenfreude?); the tussles among our kids; the stuffing of our faces with the local pizza. The climax of the visit came during our afternoon walk. It was then, with my mother-in-law and all our kids still lazing around the house, that my sister-in-law's widower dropped the bomb -- he was engaged. I was stunned, but not surprised. Joy and sadness washed over me all at once. But there was more. Turns out the engagement news was spreading fast and my mother-in-law, still at the house, had to be told soon so she wouldn't hear through the gossip line. For complicated reasons my former brother-in-law couldn't do this, so I became the designated bearer of the news. (I won't tell you how horrible I felt the moment I told my mother-in-law the news and saw gray cast over her face) Ugh. And there was more. We were invited to stop by our former brother-in-law's house that evening to meet his intended. This turned out to be a 45-minute affair that, despite our best intentions, probably came across more like an inquisition than a friendly introduction.

Just like the Thanksgiving scene in Jennifer Weiner's new book, "Fly Away Home," our New Year's Eve visit was freighted with drama. It's just a lot more fun when you don't have to live it yourself.

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