Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Fly Away Home - Jennifer Weiner

The story is based around the family of an American senator, Richard Woodruff. Each chapter is written in the voice of one of 3 characters: his devoted wife, Sylvie; their older, serious doctor daughter, Diana; and their younger, hippie-wild-child, recovering addict daughter, Lizzie. It is also divided into 3 parts.

In part 1, you hear from each of these 3 women, who flash back and forth from what is currently happening (as each of them processes the public announcement of Richard's infidelity), and something that happened in the character's past. In this way, you learn about each of their backgrounds while the main story is still going on. You learn about how Sylvie and Richard met. You find out right away that Diana is cheating on her husband, then hear of the serious relationship that led up to her meeting her husband, and the mindset in which she chose to marry him, and how she came to be cheating on him. You learn that Diana has always resented her younger sister's beauty and charm, and felt the need to overcompensate in everything she did in order to be noticed by her parents. She also feels burdened to have to constantly clean up her younger sister's messes. Then you learn that Lizzie has always felt inferior because of Diana's good marks, and turned to drugs (and photography) because she felt invisible in her family and wanted to keep herself apart from them.

In the present, you see Sylvie dealing with the fact that her husband has cheated on her, and see her going through the motions of deciding what the next steps will be. You see Diana falling apart over being stuck in a loveless marriage and having an affair. You see Lizzie falling in love with the sweetest, most wholesome guy - but not completely, because she fears that if he finds out she's an addict, he'll hate her and leave her.

In part 2, Sylvie has left Richard and is living at her family's vacation home in Connecticut, cleaning and making the house her own, learning to cook, and meeting up with an old love interest from her teenage years. Diana's affair is taking over her life. She feels that having this secret life is actually making her a better person because she devotes all her time away from her lover to her son and her husband and keeping their home. Lizzie has been living with her sister since she was released from rehab, taking care of her nephew Milo. Then one day she tries a spin class and is in such pain that she takes 2 Advil PM, just to be able to sleep, even though her counselors told her not to take any drugs at all. She has a severe reaction to the drug, and her sister accuses her of using again and putting her son in danger, and tells her to leave immediately. So Lizzie goes back to her parents' apartment, where she finds her father in a mess. Sylvie took care of everything for Richard, and he has no idea how to take care of himself. So Lizzie steps up to the plate, taking care of her father and herself, and finally feeling like she's needed.

Then Lizzie finds out she's pregnant. She thinks she should tell Jeff, her boyfriend, but she's afraid. She goes back to tell him, but only manages to admit to him that she's a recovering addict, then can't bear to tell him the rest for fear of what he'll think. So she runs to her sister's house, where she discovers Diana with her lover. After an embarrassing confrontation, Lizzie returns to her parents' apartment, leaving Diana in fear that she will be ratted out, as she knows that Lizzie would love to turn the tables and not be the family screw-up for once. But Lizzie keeps her secret, as she's got one of her own. Through these chapters, it's also mentioned that Lizzie was sexually abused by a neighbour boy when she was 12 years old. She told Diana, who had told her parents, but she never says what her parents did about it.

Sylvie admits to her new-old friend, Tim, after he tells her why he and his wife divorced, what she and her husband did about Lizzie's abuse. Nothing. At the time, they claimed they were doing what was best for Lizzie, not putting her through having to make a statement and go through trial if they were to call the police and press charges. Instead, Richard spoke to the boy's father, the boy wrote an apology, and the father made a very generous donation to Richard's next campaign... The reality was that they hadn't wanted to make Richard look bad or ruin his chances in the campaign, and that was how Sylvie's life had always been - Richard first, everything for and about Richard. Sylvie realizes that it's time she reconnected with her daughters and try to make up for the mistakes she made in the past. Because, after all, even grown girls still need their mother.

In part 3, Diana's lover sees her with her family (he knew she was married, but she never told him about her son) and breaks it off. She is completely depressed, and ends up making an almost fatal mis-prescription at the hospital which results in a paid leave. She's lost her love, her job, and she doesn't love her husband. She decides that she will tell Gary (her husband) she wants a divorce.

Lizzie thinks she might be having a miscarriage, so rushes to the doctor, who tells her she should be on moderate bed rest. Her father's away doing political things, her mother's in Connecticut, her sister doesn't want to see her, and she doesn't think that calling her boyfriend, who she hasn't spoken to since she last saw him and admitted to being an addict, to tell him she's pregnant and needs help would be a good idea. She has no one to call, no idea what to do, when suddenly, Sylvie calls and asks her to join her at the vacation house in Connecticut for a while. It's the perfect plan, except for the whole pregnant and bed rest bit. So Lizzie comes up with an elaborate "I fell and hurt my back" story for her mom.

Diana finally confronts Gary to tell him that she doesn't love him, she had an affair, and she thinks she wants a divorce. It doesn't go at all like she had planned, and she ends up calling her mom because she can't call anyone else. Sylvie invites Diana and her family to come up for a few weeks. Diana immediately packs bags for her and her son, writes Gary a note, picks Milo up from school, and they spend the night at a hotel before arriving at the vacation house in Connecticut early the next morning. For the next few weeks, Lizzie does nothing but eat and sleep and watch movies in bed, while Diana does nothing but run and sleep. Diana loses a ridiculous amount of weight while Lizzie seems to be gaining, and Sylvie just doesn't know what to do with either of them. Eventually, Diana gets a grip and starts homeschooling Milo and takes him home to see his dad for a weekend. Lizzie discreetly visits a local doctor who tells her she doesn't need to be on bed rest anymore and that she needs to be doing getting some exercise, so she starts walking into town to her AA meetings. One day on her way to town, there stands Jeff. They have lunch and he eventually persuades her to tell him what she's been hiding. He's surprised when he hears she's pregnant, but completely supportive. She's still not sure she can trust him, tho. She ends up taking him home with her and Sylvie gives him a room at the house and invites him to stay for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving turns out to be a humorous experience for eveyone. Grandma Selma (Sylvie's mom) arrives and immediately takes note of Diana's depression and Lizzie's growing midsection. Gary arrives, making for an awkward time for Diana. Sylvie tells her mother she's been seeing Tim, which takes everyone by surprise. Tim had been hanging around, but the girls had no idea they were seeing each other, just thought they were friends. So then Lizzie shamefacedly admits that she invited her father, thinking it would be a good surprise. So Tim arrives, with dessert, and Sylvie decides to serve the meal whether Richard is there or not. Not long into the meal, Grandma Selma asks Diana if she's getting a divorce, and then turns to Lizzie and Jeff to exclaim "I hope you two are getting married before the baby comes!" The whole group quiets then erupts in confusion. Then Richard arrives. With dessert, from Tim's grocery store. Awkward? He's then introduced to Tim, and greets everyone else, then sits down to eat and asks what's new. The whole table erupts in laughter, and young Milo sums it up quite nicely. "'Aunt Lizzie has a baby in her tummy from...' He paused, pointing at Jeff, having momentarily forgotten his name. 'That guy. ... My mom and dad are having grown-up problems, but Bubbe says nobody dies of divorce. ... I saved the best for last! We got a Wii! Can you believe it?'"
Kids say the darndest things. :)

After the Thanksgiving fiasco, the girls move back to Diana's house together. Gary gets an apartment down the street. Jeff and Lizzie set up a nursery. Then Diana and Lizzie go to meet the woman their father had the affair with. She's not much older than them, and under different circumstances, Lizzie imagines she would have been a very good friend. It was a meeting they both needed for the closure.
In the end, Richard and Sylvie decide to give their relationship a second chance. Richard says he's going to get out of politics. Sylvie tells him she wants to stay in Connecticut. So they plan to let things fall and see what happens.

The End. :)

Overall story rating: 5/10
Recommendation: no

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