Fly Away Home

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Judith Kelman’s FLY AWAY HOME begins as a special education teacher at a boarding school, Bethany Logan, encounters Pip, a dyslexic but also troubled eight-year-old boy. Desiring to help, Bethany examines his records only to find much of the information missing, an odd occurrence since the records are required by the state and the boy is the son of the headmaster, the sexy but remote Adam Stafford.

Doing some detective work, Bethany discovers a former neighbor of Stafford’s who attests that Pip is not Pip but Ethan Haskel, a child who was kidnapped six years earlier. Bethany first tries to contact authorities but flounders in a bureaucratic maze. Convinced that Adam Stafford is aware of her discovery and is about to flee, Bethany takes matters into her own hands and kidnaps the boy, intending to return him to his family.

The family in this case, however, is not the Ozzie and Harriet variety but the eccentric Haskels who live on an island off the New England coast. Bethany’s arrival with Pip/Ethan coincides with a Haskel ritual, called the Silence, during which time there is no contact with outsiders; the ferry, electricity, and telephone services are discontinued. Bethany and her charge are marooned for a week with a family whose sanity is questionable. Is the grandfather a kind gentleman or a tyrant, is Jeanette a sensible nurse or the murderer of her children? Nothing is quite what is seems. Not only does Bethany have to contend with the somewhat gothic behavior of the Haskels who increasingly seem to pose a danger to her and to Pip/Ethan, but she also has to contend with some demons of her own.

As long as the reader does not question too deeply the motivations of the characters and the structure of the plot, he or she is rewarded with an entertaining and engrossing tale, perfect for the day at the beach or the flight to Europe.