Flying Shoes Implodes on Takeoff
- Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2014 3 Jul
Author: Lisa Howorth
Title: Flying Shoes
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA, New York
Years ago, Mary Byrd Thornton’s young stepbrother was brutally murdered. Everyone knew who did it, but nothing could ever be proved. Now a middle-aged, married mother of two, Mary Byrd is still haunted by the crime and her (possible) unwitting role in the tragedy. Then a shocking phone call unleashes the ghosts of the past and forces Mary Byrd to deal with secrets and emotions she’s buried all these years.
If you’re looking for a crime story, keep looking. This is more a collection of character sketches than a mystery novel. Those characters are beautifully drawn, but the action—such as it is—crawls along at the pace of a geriatric snail. Maybe it’s a southern thing; Flying Shoes is a very “Southern” novel. The author owns a popular bookstore in Mississippi and she captured the atmosphere you can only find in small, southern towns—a very different vibe than their Yankee counterparts. The people, the neighborhoods, the attitudes, even the weather are all spot on. She also brings back the late nineties in all its glory—remember Y2K? The tone is sensual, the language is casually profane, and the effect is mostly befuddled.
A relatively normal housewife on the outside, Mary Byrd’s interior is a hot mess. A lost and confused soul, Mary Byrd is prone to philosophical musings like “if there was a god, he was a player and a cruel a**hole.” Given her history it’s perhaps understandable why she thinks that way, but it hardly makes for uplifting reading. She’s intimidated by her housekeeper, Evagreen, who’s a law unto herself. Mary Byrd’s husband and children get a little attention, but she spends most of her time worrying about her dwindling stash of Xanax and pondering whether or not to sleep with her drug dealer. Or maybe she’ll have a fling with her homeless friend and occasional gardener, instead. (Mary Byrd’s concept of what does and does not constitute adultery is creative, to say the least.) Thinking about gardening (as opposed to actually doing any) takes up a lot of her time, too. On the whole, Mary Byrd wanders through life in a fog of indecision, which helps explain why it takes so long for anything to actually happen.
However, the novel’s vague, slightly loopy style is perfectly suited to the mental condition of its protagonists. As noted, Mary Byrd is a little hazy at the best of times. Teeter—the homeless yard man—fried his brain years ago. Jack Ernest—the drug dealer—is one of those Southern gentlemen whose thin veneer of charm can’t quite cover up his PTSD-induced madness. We get inside all their heads, which is interesting up to a point but after a while that much unadulterated crazy just got old.
Despite its many good qualities, I didn’t think Flying Shoes would ever end; reading it was like being trapped on a cross-country bus ride with a bunch of rehab dropouts. It’s really well done if you like that kind of thing. Personally, I prefer a little more forward motion and a little less stream of consciousness meandering.