Looking for a light, fun read? Might I suggest Flight Lessons by Patricia Gaffney, a fine story that chronicles the love lives of two generations of Catalano women? I confess that I am at my most cynical when reading a romance novel, but there are enough genuine moments, peppered with lighthearted humour, to save what could have been a formulaic disaster. Sure, there’s the requisite plot and character traits: independent girl meets boy, boy or girl is a wounded soul due to recent crisis (in this case both characters are recovering), girl, or boy, helps the other overcome said crisis and a neat and tidy ending results in everlasting true love. I said I was cynical. So why am I not dismissing this novel as a run-of-the0mill “beach read?” I enjoyed the writing, the character development was better than average and the main focus of the novel is on the relationship between Anna Catalano and her Aunt Rose. In this novel, everyone has loved and lost.
Here’s the basic outline: Anna returns home unexpectedly one afternoon and discovers that her boss has found a unique way to screw over an employee –- sleep with her boyfriend. Poor Anna suffers from a horrible case of déjà vu -- she also witnessed another betrayal years ago when her father had slept with Rose, his dying wife’s sister. Gasp! Whatever is a girl to do? Once again Anna’s fight-or-flight reflex kicks in and she flies away.
Anna decides to return to her hometown to help her nemesis, Aunt Rose, save the family restaurant. Ah, yes, a prickly alliance is made between two very proud women, neither of whom is wont to delve into emotional truths -- let the fireworks begin. Normally it’s the male lead who sends the female into an emotional tailspin that sets the plot in motion and drives the story. Not this time. Anna meets dear, sweet Mason Winograd, an ex-lawyer turned expert birder and photographer. Given Anna’s penchant for flying off when things get sticky, is it any wonder she falls for a fellow who specializes in animals that fly away when scared? Mason is Aunt Rose’s dying boyfriend’s stepson –- did you follow that? Mason has a lot of emotional baggage, literally. My favorite scene is set in an airport. Gaffney uses swift, comic dialogue to convey Mason’s feelings for Anna. For me, that scene made the whole book worthwhile. A sign of good writing is when one simple scene reveals complex emotions, character depth and motivation. Gaffney also uses Anna and Mason’s e-mail for a nice modern epistolary touch.
A cast of characters (misfits?) work at the Bella Sorella restaurant, and they are fodder for several romantic subplots. And now for my petty pet peeves: Gaffney refers to Saint Stephen being pierced by arrows, but it was Saint Sebastian who became the Catholic poster boy for archery practice gone horribly wrong. And during a party scene, it is mentioned that Mason had to leave early. He was never there! Believe me, I reread the names and dialogue three times.
There are no cut-and-dried answers in this romance novel; not all the characters get paired off, and there are some loose threads left dangling, perhaps Gaffney will weave them into a neat story another time?