Full disclosure; I know Rebecca Brown well enough that I was unwilling to read a draft copy for fear my nitpicky editor brain would miss the forest for the trees, zooming in on nonsensical tiny flaws and flying over the absolute beauty that is this book. I am now heartily, profoundly sorry I made that decision. I can’t imagine any editing errors that could have hidden the loveliness of Brown’s prose.
“Flying at Night” is wonderful, one of the best books I’ve read in forever, right up there with “Wonder,” “Remains of the Day,” and “All the Light You Cannot See.” Shall I count the ways? Yes!
The characters are wonderfully drawn. I have a solid picture of them all in my head, even though Brown provides only the sketchiest of descriptions. And that’s because their characters emerge seamlessly from their narratives, dialogue, and behaviors. And perhaps more critically, these are real people, folks you can love and dislike at the same time, people whose flaws you forgive because you see yourself, or a friend, or a relative, lurking inside.
The narrative is a small tale, full of complexity and simpleness, traveling gracefully in tiny steps to a rich and satisfying conclusion. Along the way we uncover dark stories, wince at missteps, and witness epiphanies. It’s a grand trip, one that leaves you wishing you’d taken photos along the way so you could pore over them later and marvel at the adventure.
Brown manages the tale with prose that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but instead serves to keep the story moving, paint Madison, Wisconsin in icy pastels, and let the characters emerge in all their complexity. Brown doesn’t tell you much of anything; rather, the people and the setting do that for you. In my mind, that is the hallmark of great writing.
Finally, there is Fred, and if you don’t fall crazy in love with this beautiful child, you are a lost soul. I will tell you nothing about this boy because . . .
. . . .YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK!