Back-of-the-book blurb: At 34 years of age, Scarlet has come home for the passing of her famous mother, the bird artist Addie Kavanaugh. The year is 2002. Though Addie and her husband, the world-renowned ornithologist Tom Kavanaugh, have made their life in southeastern Pennsylvania, Addie has chosen to die at the home of her dearest friend, Cora. This is because their ramshackle cottage in Burnham, Pennsylvania, is filled with so much history and because, in the last ten years or so, even birdsong has seemed to make Addie angry, or sad, or both. These are the things that Scarlet needs to understand. Cora and Lou (the third woman in Addie’s circle) will help Scarlet to see her mother in full.
She Is Too Fond Of Books’ Review: In Hovering Flight is, in a word, beautiful. In her debut novel Joyce Hinnefeld explores the relationship between mother and daughter, a relationship that began so strong and sweet – Scarlet, who was named for one of the birds Addie loved to paint, was as a child her mother’s constant companion, singing and playing while her mother sketched, and exploring the woods around their home together. As Scarlet entered her teens and Addie became an environmental activist with a following, the relationship strained. Perhaps Scarlet felt that Addie abandoned her role as “mother” to nurture instead the birds of the sky.
But this is not a tale of anger and regrets; it is a story of understanding and forgiving.
Upon Addie’s death, Tom Kavanaugh presents Scarlet with her mother’s first field journal, that binder holds sketches, observations, and details about the relationship that develops between Tom and Addie. Through the journal entries, quiet conversations with Addie’s long-time friends Cora and Lou, exploration of Addie’s art, and the memories of Tom and Scarlet, the complete and complex picture emerges.
Hinnefeld’s prose are striking in their observations of the human condition and the struggle for balance in all we do. Consider this excerpt, which Tom speaks to his class of college students the day he met Addie. Although he is referring to a physical description of birds, the passage describes Addie’s personality, and is, in turn, echoed in the title of the book:
Hollow bones. Imagine what this means. Strength and lightness. Flight and surety. They hover too magnificently between the practical and the whimsical, the rational and the exquisitely nonsensical, for any student of their physiology and habitat and history to dare to linger too long at either pole, the strictly ‘scientific’ or the purely ‘poetic.’
Later, Hinnefeld describes the blues Addie feels after Scarlet’s birth. Her rocking chair, which contented her during the pregnancy and in the early weeks when she nursed Scarlet, had brought her “more happiness than she could bear.” A few months later Addie struggles to adjust to her new lifestyle:
… she would put Scarlet, sated and sleeping soundly, in the bassinet … And she would fight the urge to cry. Because she was so terribly, miserably, indescribably bored – bored with washing diapers, bored with sitting and nursing, barely able even to read because she couldn’t turn the pages without rousing, and angering, her demanding baby. Bored too with typing Tom’s words about the songs of birds, instead of hearing – and more importantly, for her, seeing – the things themselves.
In Hovering Flight was chosen as the Indie Next pick for September 2008 – with good reason! I highly recommend this book for a gift or for your own bookshelf. You will be caught up in Scarlet’s story, and journey with her as she learns more about her parents and their friends, and how these connections shaped her into the woman she is; Hinnefeld’s writing is a pleasure to read and I’ve spent more time contemplating the birds at our feeder in the days since I finished the book. Read other reviews of In Hovering Flight at My Friend Amy’s blog and at Fresh Ink.
Joyce Hinnefeld teaches at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; her fiction, poetry and essays have been published in several print and online journals. Her collection of short stories, Tell Me Everything was awarded the 1997 Bread Loaf Writers Conference Bakeless Prize in Fiction. For more information about Joyce Hinnefeld and In Hovering Flight, visit the author’s website. You might also read Joyce’s Author Chat on LibraryThing from the past few weeks, and my interview with the author.