In Lynn Steger Strong’s taut domestic drama, Flight, Christmas is a time of tension and healing for three adult siblings in the wake of their mother’s death.
Helen was a formidable figure by all accounts. Equal parts homemaker, matriarch and intellectual, she stood out in her Florida town and provided the charismatic fulcrum around which her family’s life pivoted. Even after her children had long left the family home behind, she wielded a strong influence.
For their first holiday after her death, Helen’s fractious family has gathered at the large house in upstate New York that middle child Henry shares with his wife, Alice. The whole group is flailing, because Helen died suddenly—without a will—and now they’re fighting over their mother’s Florida home.
But money and property are only the start of their issues. No one is at ease in Helen’s absence; everyone is worried and hiding some perceived shortcoming. The youngest sibling, Kate, a stay-at-home mom of three, chose a similar path to Helen’s but entirely lacks her conviction. The jury is still out on Kate’s husband, Josh, who spends the holiday dedicated to the seemingly Sisyphean task of building an igloo for the kids to play in. With money trouble looming, Kate’s focus is firmly trained on the big favor she wants to ask of her brothers.
Eldest brother Martin is a professor worried about job stability in the wake of some unbecoming and potentially ruinous behavior. His wife, Tess, is a well-paid and perennially anxious lawyer, who is neither confident with her kids nor comfortable when they’re out of her sight.
Henry is a dedicated artist who does interesting work to document climate change, which no one else inside (or perhaps even outside of) the family understands or values. Alice is a beautiful biracial social worker from a well-to-do family who is grieving her maternal prospects after multiple miscarriages. She dreads being left alone with any of her in-laws.
As a reader, it’s easy to relate to Alice’s trepidation. Though every sibling and spouse in Flight is nuanced and multidimensional, Helen’s clan can be overwhelming. Fortunately, a significant side plot involving one of Alice’s more troubled clients provides a key rallying point for the family as well as some much-needed breathing room. But of course, the myriad fissures, fractures and worries are what make this family drama feel utterly real.