Low Flying Aircraft
Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in
Pub Date: 04/15/2008
List Price: $21.95
Low Flying Aircraft
Low Flying Aircraft is a collection of interrelated stories in which one life is equally capable of influencing another "under a sky the size of history."
Spanning a period of fourteen years, the stories are connected by the pasts of Orion McClenahan and Helen Jowalski, childhood friends whose fathers shared a law practice in Chicago. In 1976 a freak accident changes their lives irrevocably, and the stories are about the people Orion and Helen grow up to be, the people they love, and the people they lose along the way.
In "Paris, the Easy Way," Sam is a stable manager who steps in to the lives of others while trying to avoid his own. Troubled by the disappearance of his brother in Cambodia and his own complicated relationship with his brother's wife, Sam finally accepts the mysteries that surround him: "Lightning, gravity, love—I've never properly understood any of it." Anna, a columnist writing on the complexities that face young modern women, loses all sense of her identity while visiting her father, a dying man who wants a grandson almost as much as he wants a daughter like Milly, the heroine of his favorite western novel.
The voices in this collection describe a world of uncertain borders, where individuals are sustained by "thin, brief moments of direction." Orion a disillusioned photojournalist, sets himself free from his wealthy family and their Midwestern habits by discarding the things of his life: a clock radio, a blender, paperbacks. He will board a plane and fly to Central America "in order to document the situation, do some good." In "Breathing is Key," Sarah momentarily decides to stay with her abusive boyfriend because she doesn't know where else to go. "I think we have a lot here" she says, "and not all of it's bad."
In story after story personal histories unfold, always what lies in wait is the possibility for connection. A brother who dies young, a first love, an abandoned husband—each persists in the realm of memory, adding texture and meaning to the lives they influence. In "The Future of Ruth" a woman comes to understand that "the proof of one's life lay in her death and the trees that might spread out and over a soul."
In revolutionary Nicaragua, on a ranch in Arizona, from a Vermont Ski slope, the souls in Low Flying Aircraft soar, all hoping to catch a glimpse "of the shape of things to come, of possibility."
'What do you do when you don't know what you want to do anymore?' asks Orion, a disenchanted photojournalist in 'Peru,' the first story in this impressive collection, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Many of McNally's characters are young adults searching for meaning in a world that has already left them disillusioned. 'We spend our lives looking for signs—for thin, brief moments of direction,' observes Ruth in 'The Anonymity of Flight.' Gradually the reader observes that the characters in the stories are connected—as siblings, childhood friends, ex-lovers. In 'Jet Stream' Ruth and Betsy are teenagers in Phoenix; in 'The Future of Ruth,' Ruth is living with Orion. This interrelatedness sometimes frustrates attempts to locate a unifying perspective, and McNally's occasionally intellectualized commentary ('We can only know what we once didn't know') is distancing. But his prose is lean and powerful, and the brief scenes—strung together with little formal structure—effectively convey the desolation of lost dreams.
While each story stands alone, each is also connected to the others. Together, they weave a loose history of the lives of characters Orion and Helen. The progress of these individuals through time is chronicled with brief and tantalizing glimpses at the events that shaped their lives. The overall tone is dark and moody, reflecting the tragedies of everyday life. Dialog and description are skillfully rendered. This is a fascinating storytelling technique.
Extraordinary . . . McNally's is a deep understanding of the mind that lives with mourning, and he has mastered an original language to depict it. . . . An enormously gifted writer.
—San Francisco Chronicle
Memorable . . . The interrelationships of the characters are telegraphed briskly and enigmatically; their stories are full of takeoffs, landings and every kind of flight imaginable.
—Louisville Courier Journal
McNally's 14 intriguingly interconnected stories have a crystalline quality—they're hard, sharp-edged, faceted, and fragile.These are haunting stories that revolve around the deep sorrows of desertion, abuse, and death, but they sing with an acceptance of the power and mysteries of pain, love, and the conflicting forces of flight and gravity.
Remarkable . . . A storyteller's gallery of unforgettable portraits . . . One of McNally's significant accomplishments is that we wind up caring, often quite deeply.
A meditation on the meaning of loss. In stark, imagistic prose—part Ernest Hemingway, part Wallace Stevens—McNally . . . links events randomly and geometrically, the way life links them.
—New York Times