The Floatplane Notebooks

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in rural North Carolina and narrated from shifting points of view, this novel shows a family coping with traumas that extend from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Edgerton illustrates the richness of rural family life as his characters tell of sibling rivalry, sexual experiences, post-religious alienation, and slapstick misadventures.

In an age that views relationships as temporary encounters based on informed consent, it is unusual to find a work that celebrates natural bonds maintained by ignorant people who are sustained by tradition. Edgerton has a gift for allowing his characters to express their backwardness, while making the reader feel envious rather than disdainful.

The family name is “Copeland.” The family members cope with life through their ties to the rural landscape. The pivotal Copeland tradition is the annual effort to prune the brush that encroaches upon the family graveyard. This ritual of extrication from nature unites the generations in an awareness of their dead, while creating a forum for transmitting oral histories to the living.

The family effort to transcend its inner traumas is symbolized by one father’s attempt to build a floatplane from an incomplete mail-order kit. The Copelands bear witness to the project in a notebook that becomes a written family history.

In capturing the drama of family dynamics, Edgerton is unable to avoid some stylistic weaknesses. Family dialogues are framed in an austere prose that emphasizes relationships at the expense of visual description. The novel is narrated in vignettes that tend to be mildly interesting rather than gripping. This parallels the nature of family life--it is the cumulative power of life together, rather than any one experience, that creates lasting ties.