Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright

Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright is the latest take on the marriage-in-trouble theme.

From Publishers Weekly (via amazon)
Wright hits it out of the park in her debut, an engaging account of a woman contemplating divorce. Despite finally getting her husband, Phil, to attend counseling sessions with her, Elyse Bearden realizes her marriage is dead in the water. Though Phil's a doting father and a decent man, he's also the occasional jerk who snickers at his wife in lingerie and is generally indifferent to her. Elyse already knows she's going to leave her husband when she meets Gerry Kincaid and soon begins an affair that allows her to escape from the crushing banality of her suburban life. Serving as Elyse's foil is her beautiful best friend, Kelly, now married to an older, wealthy man. While the idea of housewives complaining about their husbands over lunch may strike some as a conventional hen-lit trope, Wright conveys friendships and the blasé everyday with authenticity and telling detail, while passages depicting Elyse's inner life are rife with the same wit and insight that infuse the dialogue. Though this story is one that readers may have seen many times before, Wright delivers fresh perspective and sympathetic characters few writers can match.

On the turning point
He turns slightly more toward me in the seat and I turn slightly more toward him. I tell him it seems strange that a person who can climb mountains is afraid to fly, and he shakes his head. It's a matter of control, he says, and he tells me about the scariest thing that's ever happened to him on a climb. Years ago, when he'd just begun the sport, he'd found himself linked to a guy who didn't fix the clips right and something broke loose and both of them slid. There's nothing worse, he says, than to be halfway up the face of the mountain, past the turnback point, and all of a sudden to realize you can't count on the other person. I ask him what the turnback point is and he says there's a place you get to in every climb where it's as dangerous to retreat as it is to advance. I nod. It seems I should have known this.

On Yankee and Southern women
I think of the Yankee woman in the barbecue scene in Gone With the Wind and how she referred to the southerners as "puzzleling, stiff-necked strangers." I suspect that is now Nancy sees us, as puzzling and stiff-necked, as people who splash around a kind of surface friendliness but who are easily offended when she breaks rules she didn't know existed. Perhaps she views her time in North Carolina as some sort of extended anthropological study. She does look a bit like Margaret Mead, peering out from her oversized hats and gauzy scarves, taking mental notes about the incomprehensible rituals of the aboriginal people. Because there are a lot of rules and even though Kelly and I may not always follow them it's a bit shocking to come up against someone who doesn't even seem to know what they are. You don't put dark meat in your chicken salad. You write a thank-you note and send it through the U.S. Postal Service instead of relying on an Ecard. You don't correct anyone's pronunciation of anything. You call anyone over seventy "ma'am" and you call your friends "ma'am" if you're mad at them. You don't brag about how cheap you got something, or, even worse, how much you paid for it. Especially not real estate. Now, on the flip side, it's perfectly okay to drink like a fish, or curse, or flirt with someone else's husband. In fact it's a little insulting if you don't. To refuse to flirt with her husband implies your friend chose badly, and if you and she both damn well know she chose badly, you need to flirt a little bit more just to help her cover up the fact.

On a book club discussion
"You can't expect everything to be some old-fashioned romance," says Kelly, picking up the plate of brownies and walking into the den. "It's supposed to be a realistic treatment of an affair." "What do you mean?" Belinda asks, following her. "That things have to be sad to be realistic?" "What she means," Nancy says, as patient as a saint, "is that in novels women run off with their lovers. In real life, women stay."

On the making of a happy night
There are men everywhere here, all over the city, looking down from office windows or even higher, suspended in mid air, circling in planes, heading to the beds of women like me. Women who take off their wedding rings, women with bright red mouths who wait alone in darkening rooms, drinking Tanqueray. I lie down and pull the nubby gray comforter over me. I am drunk and alone in a rented bed. Nobody here knows me and nobody at home knows exactly where I am, and I think, somewhat illogically, that this is the happiest night of my life.

On the beginning
Our actual affair began sometime back. Yesterday morning when I boarded the plane, or perhaps last Tuesday, when he e-mailed me the ticket information, or maybe it was even earlier, when I agreed to come to New York, when we set a date to meet. Or maybe the turnback point was the very first day he called me, when I was watching Tory on the ball field, or when I kissed him, in the chapel in Dallas. The idea that you can change your fate is illusory and I do not indulge it for long. This decision was made years ago. Before I ever met Gerry Kincaid.

On self discovery
...I'm smeared with potting soil so I go into the house to take a bath. At the last minute I squirt a dollop of bath gel into the water. This bottle of Vitabath has been in the bathroom cabinet for years but I can't remember who gave it to me or what I was saving it for. It falls from the bottle with a big gelatinous thud and makes the bottom of the tub so slick that when I step in I slide straight down and make a splash. The sound of my laughter surprises me and I look up, thinking maybe somebody else has come into the room.

On thoughts and potato chips
Belinda says that maybe she should get a job, but she barely got through two years of college and the only job she'd be able to get would be a crap job. Nancy has started tutoring high school kids in math, and maybe Belinda could do something like that. Not math, of course, because Beinda stinks in math, but something like that, part-time. She doesn't want to end up like her mother. You know, bitter. Kelly says maybe we can list all the things Belinda is good at while we walk, but I suspect this will be no help at all. Women like Belinda never get jobs that have anything to do with what they're good at. Belinda is very close to that most dangerous of questions--"But what about me?"--and I dread this for her. It's the potato chip of thoughts. You're better off not opening the bag.

On the anonimity of terminals
...for airports are the great equalizers, aren't they? The beautiful and the strong, the discheveled and the frightened, they are all sitting with magazines and bottled water, waiting. You turn to the story of the rock star's daughter who drunkenly rode her motocycle onto the patio of a Santa Monica restaurant. She hit a women who later claimed to be her father's greatest fan, and finally, yes, it's starting at last, that sweet numbness that slips over you in airports, that sense of being neither here nor there. You need these pockets of time and you feel for Nicole and the woman who was hit in Santa Monica and even for the model who sources say got pregnant just to avoid doing jail time. She assaulted a photographer who snapped her in an airport. They say she kicked him, flew at him in a rage. She screamed profanities and the contents of her purse went flying. But you know how she felt. There are times when a women doesn't want to be seen.

Reading Love in Mid Air was like watching a car accident.  You know you should look away, but you are compelled to stare, trying to absorb the details.  Elyse and her friends border on giving us too many intimate details and you want to say, "Enough!"  Then you realize that the details are necessary to knowing the whole story of these loves and lives in free fall.  Publishers Weekly says the details are filled with "wit and insight."  I'll give them insight, but not sure about wit.
Aside:  The book being discussed at the book club is never named, and the man Elyse meets on the plane is named Gerry Kincaid.  Those of you who have read that other book about a woman who stayed will recognize the reference.
Rating:  4/5 (Fiction Scale)
First line:  I wasn't meant to sit beside him.

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