FLYING LESSONS by Susan Johnson


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 One of those novels that promises much, by acclaimed Australian writer Johnson, now making her US debut, but never quite fulfills the expectations it raises. Family business left incomplete, stories flawed in the remembering, and a personal quest for fulfillment are the themes that Johnson explores in elegant, even poetic prose, as she tells the story of Ria Lubrano, who finally learns the truth in the metaphorical flying lessons she takes. Ever since brother Scott disappeared in the northern part of Australia, Ria, a singer of jingles, has found that her ``looking eye seems trained on other losses, other griefs. The world seems unbearably fragile, teetering a little on its axis.'' Her eyes become infected, and this condition--a metaphor for her blighted perceptions--together with the story of her grandmother Emma, who (Ria believes) defied her family, and a need to find Scott lead to her own flight to the great northern tableland. Here, in the town where her father and grandmother were born, she hopes ``to live fully and well.'' Ria joins a commune, hears tantalizing news of Scott, and, in alternating sections, relates the story of her grandmother Emma's life--as she understands it. A brief affair with a charismatic commune leader, and a meeting with her surviving great-aunt, provide the necessary lessons and moments of epiphany. When she learns that in truth Emma had never been ostracized by her family for marrying Italian--and Roman Catholic--Sam, Ria realizes that it's time she does ``some joining'' for Emma and Scott. ``She must go home for Scotty, so they will all be there to greet him. She must live with ordinary happiness, and embrace the living who need comfort more than the dead.'' Somehow Ria and her flight are too minor in key for the significance that Johnson tries to attach to them. Evocative descriptions of Australia, but this is too laden with unfulfilled intellectual ambitions to really take off.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-571-16217-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991


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