Wednesday, June 8, 2005

New wings

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Ginger Strand is a fabulous name for an author. Flight is a slightly less fabulous title for a debut novel. The pages of Flight are less fabulous still, but by no means thoughtless or poorly written, just a bit cramped, like traveling in economy with NBA players.

Flight is the story of the Gruen family, a western Michigan flock in a complex transition. Will, the family patriarch, is a Vietnam vet turned career pilot resisting a forced retirement from TWA. He keeps this a secret from his dabbling wife Carol, whose project du jour is to transform their farmhouse into a bed and breakfast because, you know, western Michigan is the new Hamptons.

The novel is set around the wedding of Will and Carol’s younger daughter Leanne, the family’s former disaster whose alcoholism has now given way to a kindler, gentler case of pre-matrimonial jitters. Entering stage left is her sister Margaret, the former star of the family who now finds her open marriage closing up in a shroud of emotional abuse.

Everyone seems to have a secret in this story, and Strand succeeds in detailing her characters’ demons, shifting perspectives with ease, and even the Gruen family is its own character. Where Flight hits turbulence, however, is in the banality of the everyday. Some novelists can turn nothing into something, such as John McGahern, author of Amongst Women. Ginger Strand? Not so much. Who cares about last-minute grocery shopping and the ponderous mental wanderings of characters we’ve yet to invest in?

It’s hard to fault Strand for a lack of ambition as she tries to incorporate shifting voices and thematic subject matter as diverse as failed marriages and the aftershock of Vietnam and 9/11. There’s no doubt Strand will hit it in future efforts. But readers may find this first attempt as inspiring as it is frustrating.

John Dicker reviews books for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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