As a fan of Linda Holmes — a mainstay of the delightful media discourse NPR series POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR — I’d been meaning to get around to reading her first novel EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER and her latest novel FLYING SOLO.
It wasn’t until I saw Linda Holmes reply to a tweet extolling her description of a library as a church, a spacious place to worship words, that I felt the need to immediately prioritize FLYING SOLO.
In my youth, I lived close enough to our local library that it was a five-minute walk. I’m not exaggerating: it would’ve taken longer to drive there than to walk.
For many years, it consisted of a small cottage house, wall-to-wall shelves with books crammed up to the ceiling. It was comfortably cramped, and it was overseen by a woman named Susan Overfield, who was the exact image of what you’d expect her to look like: short in stature, unkempt salt-and-pepper hair, but so passionate about books and knowledge and she knew exactly where everything was and would always give you recommendations for texts you never knew you needed. Essex, Vermont’s patron saint of libraries.
I’d walk out with an arm full of books and come back a week later to return them and repeat the process.
Time passed and it was suggested that the library had outgrown the cottage, so they decided to move to a more spacious building. I fretted when I heard the news, worried that they would move as far as possible from my home, fearful that it’d disrupt my weekly pilgrimage.
Instead, they moved into an abandoned church, on the same corner as the old cottage and, as Holmes alluded to: if you believe in a higher being, books get you there. If you don’t, well, consider it a temple to unbound delights.
(I’ve since learned that libraries moving into churches is pretty common in New England, so it’s nothing exclusive to my town.)
This is a very long-winded way of saying: I feel very seen by Holmes. Not only did I prioritize FLYING SOLO because of the library :: church bit, but also because, well, it’s right there in the name: flying solo. While, yes, I’ve spent more of my life entangled with people than not, I’m a loner at heart. I love solo walks and I love reading by myself and watching films by myself and I absolutely love traveling alone.
Again, all of that is rather antithetical for someone who has been partnered up with folks for longer than not, but it’s true. Introversion and anxiety is a hell of a bad combination, not to mention a delicate balancing act, and I see that all over the protagonist of FLYING SOLO: Laurie, the sole daughter who grew up among three brothers.
FLYING SOLO centers around Laurie, 39-going-on-40 (yes, actually — it’s not an ‘I’m always 39!’ joke), whom is tasked with returning to the small New England hometown she left for the Pacific Northwest to sort through her dead great aunt Dot’s house and clean it out. She stumbles over two objects of note: 1) a wood-carved duck carefully preserved and hidden amongst Dot’s belongings and 2) the sweet ex she broke up with because she knew she wanted a life elsewhere and he did not.
While I thought FLYING SOLO would mostly focus on the will-they/won’t-they of the latter facet, it leans hard into the first. It turns out that the duck may have been crafted by a famous artists, and Laurie unknowingly offloads it before realizing that it may be worth quite a bit. What follows is essentially very soft heist, the softest, but it’s still quite fun and beguiling, and then matters unfurl.
I’ll note: this is a very specific book, despite straddling a number of genres. It’s all about the nerds and weirdos and misfits. It’s not a traditional romantic novel — Holmes draws that line in the sand very quickly — but it traffics in all of the comforts of everything from rom-coms to melodrama to thrillers to action — however on a much smaller scale.
It’s a fun and substantive ride, and the end payoff with Dot and the duck is expertly handled. If you are one who keeps people at an arm’s length in a warm way, this is for you.