Monday, May 19, 2008

Things Go Flying by Shari Lapeña

I chose Shari Lapeña's Things Go Flying by its cover, and the novel didn't disappoint. Though I chose it for its first line too, "Harold's recent hobby of reading obituaries at breakfast was his only new hobby in years." Setting the stage for an off-kilter story, irreverent and fun. Also as lovely and delightful as the cover suggests.

Things Go Flying is the story of a family at a point of crisis: Harold Walker becoming preoccupied with death and acting strangely, his wife Audrey ambivalent about losing control of her household as Harold breaks down. Their teenage sons doing teenage things. Also Harold is being visited by spirits, and, well, Audrey's got a troubling secret of her own.

Lapeña's narrative is dizzying at first, rapidly flipping between the four members of the Walker family. Which gets easier as the book goes on, but also serves to emphasize the radically different spheres each character inhabits, how far apart they are. Harold Walker is the common man we've encountered in books before-- in Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, or Carol Shields' Larry's Party, for example. An ordinary guy finds himself in some extraordinary trouble, though Harold's trouble is even more extraordinary than usual. His wife Audrey, however, is decidedly novel in her creation-- the overbearing wife and mother, killing herself with martyrdom and the very best intentions, but here so fabulously drawn on the inside and out.

Between Harold and Audrey, and their sons, Lapeña demonstrates the variety of ways in which family members drive one another crazy. Her story engaging in all its twists and turns, and, though undoubtedly fun and amusing throughout, it all comes to take on a deeper resonance.