Sometimes Love is Just Another Four-Letter Word: Flight by Lynn Steger Strong

For all the multitudes of industry built on the promise of love — from greeting cards and rose ceremonies to wedding planners and the Hallmark Channel, it can often be just a messy emotion to navigate.

I am reminded of a parenting class I once took in which my child development (a less guilt-inducing name for a day care) center director said that anger is almost exclusively a secondary emotion. It’s almost always tied to something else — often times, fear. And I wonder now, looking back on a couple of decades worth of raising kids and navigating family, if love isn’t riding shotgun with anger.

Is love really ever unconditional?

Lynn Steger Strong’s latest, “Flight,” is a study in the many layers of familial love that exist — from mothers to children, children to their parents, brothers to sisters, husbands to wives, in-laws to in-laws; and in the layers of love that are lost to the ether — bonds that on paper should exist, but don’t.

The story of three couples and their children gathering for their first matriarch-less Christmas over the course of several days in upstate New York, Tess and Martin, Josh and Kate, and Alice and Henry come together to give and grieve all at once. And each has an emotional cross to bear:

Tess, the Type A helicopter mom-slash-attorney trying to come to grips with her oldest’s behavior diagnoses;

Martin, Tess’ husband and the oldest of the Martin/Kate/Henry sibs, trying to assuage his guilt over crossing the line at work;

Kate, three kids in and struggling with being the worst kind of parenting personality where you want everything to be perfect without looking like you want everything to be perfect, and taking claim on missing her mother the most of all;

Josh, Kate’s husband and desperate to avoid the fact he’s squandered his inheritance;

Henry, the brother that tries to appease all other sibs while receding into his creative aesthetic and avoiding his wife’s pain; and

Alice, Henry’s wife, who wants the one thing she can never have, and allows that desire to inappropriately bleed over into her work life.

And then there’s Quinn and Maddie. Oof.

Whereas Strong’s previous novel, “Want” felt like a singular view into a person’s world, “Flight” was for me a more comprehensive look at all the things that make a family, and an honest one at that. This isn’t the first book to delve into the nasty that is parenting and it won’t be the last. But it’s the first one in a long while that made me think hard about the many ways we love, and even think we love unconditionally, but then realize that no, we probably don’t.

I wouldn’t say that love is quite like anger in that I really do think it’s a primary emotion. BUT. More often than not, there’s some mitigating factor hanging out when that four-letter word creeps into your brain. Excitement, maybe. Pride, perhaps. Desire, for sure. Strong’s family drama takes great care to illustrate love’s curious, mysterious entanglements and it will sweep you up and along for the ride.

What a fantastic read just in time for the holiday season. It’s the perfect book to get hygge with — grab a blanket and hot cider, sit back and enjoy.

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