Source: author's publicist
I was a bit disappointed with Jennifer Weiner's last novel, Best Friends Forever, so I was a little nervous about reading her newest. I got over my reservations quickly, though.
The Woodruff women are going through simultaneous crises, and while these crises don't necessarily draw mother and daughters together, they do affect how they relate to one another. Younger daughter Lizzie is recently out of rehab and trying to prove - to herself as well as everyone else - that she's not just a screwup. Older daughter Diana's perfectly planned life - mother, wife, doctor - is being turned inside out by her involvement with an attractive intern. A similar involvement is doing the same thing to their mother, Sylvie - except in her case, the one who's involved is her husband, New York Senator Richard Woodruff. It's a ripped-from-the-headlines plot element - the scandal of the high-profile politician caught fooling around, and the spouse's reaction to the revelations - but in Weiner's hands, it's not necessarily the same story you've heard before.
Weiner takes some chances in building so much of her story around an incident so contemporary, and there are details (in the ARC I was provided for review; I don't know if they remain in the finished copy) - references to a married golfer with a string of girlfriends and an Academy Award-winning actress' cheating husband, among others - that could potentially date the novel. However, the themes related to it - the public presentation and the inner workings of marriages, the challenges of knowing and creating who you are, coping with life's curveballs - are pretty timeless, and Weiner explores them through some of the strongest, most vivid characters she's created in some time. Sylvie, a woman who finds herself at a loss after more than thirty years of making her husband's career her own life's work, particularly appealed to me, but each of the Woodruff women was well-drawn, distinct, and layered. I found something to love in all of them, even brittle Diana.
I think Fly Away Home may be Jennifer Weiner's most ambitious, accomplished novel yet. She challenges her characters with common, yet complicated, topics like infidelity, addiction, unplanned pregnancy and family/career conflict, and acknowledges that there are no one-size-fits-all answers. The novel's humor isn't contrived, and neither is its humanity and emotional resonance. Books like this are why I enjoy contemporary women's fiction, and why Jennifer Weiner remains one of my favorite authors in the niche.
Originally posted at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
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