Linda Holme’s sophomore novel “Flying Solo” (Ballantine, 320 pp., ★★★ ½ out of four) is a near-perfect, feel-good summer escape for those of us who are not always satisfied with the traditional happily-ever- after.
Much like her 2019 debut novel “Evvie Draves Starts Over,” “Flying Solo” is a nuanced, extraordinarily ordinary adult love story that is as romantic as it is real. But this time Holmes pushes the narrative further by pushing back at the usual love story tropes.
When we meet her, Laurie Sassalyn, a wildlife journalist, is approaching 40 and distancing herself from the wedding she called off. She has temporarily relocated from her home in Seattle to her hometown of Calcasset, Maine, where she is working her way through her late aunt’s estate.
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Laurie always had a special connection with her aunt Dot, finding refuge at in her big house when she needed to escape her crowded and especially loud home filled with four rambunctious brothers. Dot, who never married or had children, provided a quiet oasis where Laurie found great comfort and inspiration.
While sorting through her aunt’s belongings, Laurie stumbles upon a wooden duck bundled in the afghans and quilts of her aunt’s cedar chest. Dot’s home is filled with souvenirs and keepsakes. Why is a rustic wooden decoy buried away in a house where almost everything is on display? Later, Laurie discovers the wooden duck is mentioned in a love letter to Dot, which piques her interest. But before she can make heads or tails of how this duck fits into Dot’s story, it is gone.
Along with her oldest friend June, her first love Nick and her brother Ryan, Laurie sets out to find and reclaim the duck to discover its true meaning and value.
Just the comical banter Holmes writes for her characters and the situations she puts them in is a delightful enough reason alone to indulge in the novel.
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But the book is not just a comical caper. All the while, Laurie juggles her perceptions and assumptions, not just about her aunt Dot but of herself, her friend June and conveniently divorced Nick. Laurie and Nick’s attraction to one another is palpable. But as their relationship evolves, Laurie continues to sort and label her friends, family and even Nick into neat and tidy classifications and labels, much like the wildlife she writes about.
We all label, both ourselves and others, making often benign assumption. But these labels are more often than not misplaced. As a result, we project. And sometimes projecting is an attempt to protect ourselves.
Holmes deftly navigates these assumptions, not just of what a love story is, but of what a relationship is, both with ourselves and others. Through her easy and often comical prose, the author lets us discover for ourselves that not everything has a neat and tidy place. Just as Laurie’s perception of her spinster aunt ultimately belied the rich and fulfilling life of an independent woman named Dot, we realize that the labels we wear and attribute to others don’t always make for a traditional happy-ever-after.