Book review: ‘Fly Away Home’ by Jennifer Weiner

Sylvie Serfer Woodruff — respected politician’s wife; mother of two; watcher of weight — knows she’s become a walking prop when news of her husband’s infidelity reaches the national news. Senator Richard Woodruff had a liason with a woman who could be his daughter, true, and Sylvie takes the news as well as could be expected — which means, in this case, that she retreats inward.

Her life, Sylvie soon realizes, has been reduced to organizing Richard’s life. He’s a grown man who expects his wife to stand in line at a hotel breakfast bar to gather his eggs and toast. Sylvie tends to Richard’s needs as one would look after a child — maybe in a way she didn’t look after her own. Seeking asylum for the chaos that has taken over her marriage, sustained for more than three decades, Sylvie escapes to Connecticut, where she begins to clean and restore the Serfer family’s beach house.

Diana and Lizzie, the Woodruff sisters, are living opposite lives when news of the scandal breaks. Married with a young son, Diana is a doctor trapped in a loveless marriage — and seeking comfort where she can. Lizzie, a recovering addict, is struggling to renew her passion for something she once cherished: photography. The summer takes Lizzie to her sister’s home in Washington, D.C., where she looks after Milo, Diana’s son . . . until the secrets in Diana’s home threaten to level the place. And getting away from it all seems like the next logical step.

Jennifer Weiner’s Fly Away Home is a look at a political family that could be yours, or mine — and that’s what I loved about it. Beyond being the daughters of a powerful politician, Diana and Lizzie — who often feel like the novel’s real focus — were multi-dimensional characters. Sylvie, too, felt like a friend — a woman with whom I could relate, and a woman I would have been happy to know.

Whether we’re talking John Edwards or Bill Clinton, Larry Craig or “The Good Wife,” our news — and popular culture — are rife with the sexual indiscretions of those in power. It’s amazing how one act can shatter so many lives and threaten to bring down whole political dynasties. Richard Woodruff is fictional, sure, but he could just as easily be an Eliot Spitzer. As a reader, Richard’s troubles were an all-too-familiar trope; basically, I felt like I’d heard this all before. As such, I found myself skimming through the opening — just a little, just a little! — and focusing more on Sylvie’s reaction to everything, which was much more interesting to me.

Yes, the Woodruff women are the novel’s real focus: who they are, how they became that way. I loved that Sylvie was the daughter of Selma Serfer, a hard-nosed, fast-talking judge, and that Selma didn’t hesitate to question the way Sylvie was living her life. More than anything, the book felt like the renaissance of Sylvie Serfer — a way of rising from the robotic depths of her life.

Diana and Lizzie were quite complicated, too. Of all the characters, I fell right in step with Lizzie — a 24-year-old woman in recovery, the spoiled youngest child accustomed to humiliating her family as she stood in the shadows of big sister Diana. It felt a bit cliched to have the girls fit such roles, I guess, but it didn’t bother me — mostly because I was moving through the plot so quickly. Learning about the deterioriation of Diana’s marriage was sad but interesting, and I loved the parallel between the wrongs she’d committed and her father’s own bad decisions. It added a totally different dimension to the story.

Weiner took on a very heavy subject — and a well-worn one — and still produced a fascinating, memorable book. I would have loved to know more about Jeff, Lizzie’s love interest, and Milo, Diana’s son, but these are minor quibbles — especially in light of how much I loved the dynamics between Sylvie and her mother as well as Diana and Lizzie. After being disappointed by 2009’s Best Friends Forever, I’m glad to see Weiner is back to crafting entertaining, vivid character studies of loveable, complicated women. Fans of women’s fiction, contemporary fiction and the effervescent Weiner shouldn’t miss this one.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0805090819 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publicist

Getting cupcakes with Jennifer Weiner

Y’all might remember that little ol’ Pioneer Woman signing we attended in May — the one where we stood in line for four hours (four. hours.) to meet Ree Drummond. That was fun, sure, but the whole waiting in line forever thing sort of made me nervous for last night.

Because I asked Spencer to go with me to another signing. And, like last time, it was filled with ladies and hardly a gentleman in sight — all there for Jennifer Weiner! Good sport that he is, Spence agreed to accompany me — and we didn’t have nearly the issues (or the wait) for this one.

I’ve been a huge fan of Weiner’s since the days of Good In Bed, her debut novel — which isn’t exactly what it sounds like, but also sort of is. (You know, what it sounds like.) She’s an incredibly funny, talented writer — and, as it turns out, an incredibly funny and sweet woman. I would expect nothing less from an author I’ve adored for so long! (Her novel Little Earthquakes is also a favorite, and the first book I reviewed here on write meg!)

Spencer and I arrived in Bailey’s Crossroads, Va., and grabbed dinner at a lovely French cafe, La Madeleine. We waltzed into Borders at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. event only to find most of the seats already taken! We secured one chair and grabbed cupcakes, most of which were also gone. That crowd of 150 people, if I had to guess, was hungry! And excited. The room was buzzing with chatter.

Jennifer took to the podium at 7:30 p.m. to the grand applause of the room, and she spoke for almost an hour. If this whole writing-books thing doesn’t work, I’m pretty sure Weiner could have a career as a stand-up comedian. She came across as confident, comfortable, down-to-earth and hilarious, sharing anecdotes about her mother meeting Rosie O’Donnell — and all the antics that ensued. Despite the fact that Jennifer can easily pepper a conversation with statements like, “When I was on ‘The Rachael Ray Show’ . . .,” she seems the opposite of snobby or rude. I loved listening to her share thoughts on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” (love those shows like crack), just as she does on Twitter, and take questions from the audience.

After the Q&A portion, Spencer and I sat down to relax and wait for our turn to meet Jennifer. After a little bit, I was spotted by sharp-eyed Melissa of Chick Lit Central and loved chatting with her! So fun to meet other bloggers, especially when it’s random. Melissa introduced me to author Sarah Pekkanen, too, and I can’t wait to read her book — it’s been on my bookshelves for a while.

Meeting Jennifer was incredibly fun, though I became uncharacteristically nervous as we drew closer in line. Normally chattering like a monkey isn’t an issue for me, but I did get a bit starstruck — until Jennifer smiled and opened up the conversation. I remember her asking me about what I was reading this summer and I froze. I only read about a hundred billion books a year, but wouldn’t you know I couldn’t think of a single book I was reading right now? Besides, you know, hers. (I eventually mentioned Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, because who isn’t psyched for that?! It’s on my calendar.) She signed my books — I’d brought Good In Bed, my favorite, and my ARC of Fly Away Home — and Spencer snapped some photos for us. (More are available on my Flickr page.)

All in all, another wonderful author experience! As I once heard someone say, authors are the “rock stars” of the literary world — and meeting them is definitely a celebrity experience. I’m so glad Jennifer comes across as fun and warm in person as she does in her novels — all of which I’ll continue to read for a long, long time.

Jennifer Weiner is on her Cupcakes Across America Book Tour now through August. See if she’s coming to a city near you!