We Once Had Wings by Jennifer Shun

We Once Had Wings

Email this review


In this multigenerational family chronicle, mother, daughter, and grandmother struggle to find happiness.

Shun’s debut opens in 1947. Joy is about to marry her childhood buddy and returned soldier, James “Jimmy” Young. After her first child’s birth, Joy’s postpartum depression makes it impossible for her to manage on her own. With Jimmy proving useless as a father, Joy’s mother, Margaret, does most of the child care. Joy, who dreamed as a little girl of exploring the foreign lands she fell in love with through the pages of National Geographic, finds that her daughter, Susan, as she grows up, is on the road to repeating her mistakes. Susan drops out of school and gives up her passion for art to support the man in her life, Eddie, who turns out to be a cad much like Jimmy. There are, however, some notable differences in their outlooks: Susan believes her children are her salvation, while Joy thinks they’ve ruined her. But in a story dedicated to the women in the family, it’s Grandfather Henry who is most sympathetic. He forges the most touching bonds, particularly with his wife, Margaret, despite learning her long-held secret. Shun’s tale favors breadth over depth, covering nearly a century of similar struggles, disappointments, and anxieties. It can be easy to lose track of the characters not only because there are so many, but also because of the particular way Shun presents their similarities. The prose, however, can be simultaneously visceral and vivid as when Susan describes her lactation at the sound of her child crying: “My navy T-shirt’s soaked black with milk.” These well-written moments give the novel texture, but they don’t always advance the plot. “The mixer hums,” Susan observes later. “Its bowl spinning clockwise and moving like time: forward.” With no crescendo of action, however, this tale just keeps rolling along without direction.

A strong, sometimes-wandering effort about women trapped by circumstance.

Publisher: figure3 inc.
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


FictionTHE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood
by Margaret Atwood