I was interested to read Flying Solo, the new book by Linda Holmes (author of Evvie Drake Starts Over), because of the character-related premise—a woman who has no wish to either get married or have children. Being one of those women (but 25 years further along in life than this protagonist), I thought it would be interesting to see if the author had the character stick to her guns or cave at the first sign of romance. I actually end up falling between two of those women on the age spectrum—the protagonist, Laurie, on the verge of her 40th birthday, and her beloved great-aunt, Dot, who persisted until she was 90 (although it didn’t stop her from having a lot of interesting relationships!).
Laurie Sassalyn has been living in Seattle for about 15 years, most recently with her boyfriend, Chris. They planned to wed, but as the date got closer, Laurie realized that a. she didn’t want to get married, and b. she didn’t want to marry Chris! So two weeks before the ceremony she called it off, and then spent the following months packing up and sending back the many wedding gifts. Just when she has worked through this laborious task, her great-aunt Dot dies, and Laurie ends up being the designated family member to go back to her home town of Calcasset, Maine, to sort through the massive amount of stuff Dot accumulated in her long and experience-filled life. Dot was an enthusiastic world traveler and a collector of both people and memorabilia, and her house is packed full of tchotchkes and Polaroids; Laurie has dedicated herself to putting eyes on each and every object before deciding whether to keep, sell, or discard. (Having had to do this when both my parents passed, I could viscerally relate to this part of the story as well!)
While in Maine, Laurie reconnects with both friends and former beaus from her childhood there—notably, her friend June, now married and a mother of two, and her old boyfriend Nick, who she has seen only once (an uncomfortable encounter at a mutual friend’s wedding) since she broke up with him in high school. He was married last time she saw him, but now he’s divorced, living and working back in their mutual home town, and they fall into a natural camaraderie that Laurie is determined won’t turn into something more, because she is resolute about not staying in Maine or disrupting her lovely single lifestyle.
While going through Dot’s things, Laurie comes across an unusual (for her aunt) artifact: a carved wooden duck decoy, hidden at the bottom of a cedar chest under some quilts. Laurie takes a liking to it and wants to find out more about it, so she turns to the estate-sale guy she has hired to help her dispose of such of her aunt’s belongings that she doesn’t want to keep. He investigates a little and tells her the duck has no financial value, but she is suspicious of his subsequent interest in taking it off her hands. All of a sudden the quest for the provenance of the duck decoy turns into a caper that ends up involving Nick (a librarian who does stellar research), June, and a few new friends as well. In the midst of this, Laurie has to decide: How does she stick to her resolve to remain independent and alone (and in Seattle) while being enticed by the sweet and caring (and hot) boyfriend from her past?
Some readers (and reviewers) have characterized this as a “second chance at romance” book, but I saw it as anything but that. At first I thought it was going to be one of those “she doth protest too much” books where the heroine ends up compromising everything she “thought” she wanted for a man but, refreshingly, it doesn’t turn out to be that book. The characters are witty, nice (all but one), and full of common sense, and the setting is likewise warm and homey without being clichéd. The plot device of tracking down the origins of the duck gives a fun twist to the more usual “went back to my hometown and had a revelation” style of book, providing a mystery for the characters to solve together. But we still get to see the resolution of Laurie’s feelings about relationship vs. independence, and it is both satisfying and skillfully written.
The author makes a comment in her acknowledgments about “navigating the complicated and very unnerving second book blues,” but I liked this book much better than her first, and would recommend it. It’s definitely not deathless prose, but as a (somewhat pithy) cozy “relationship” book it’s better than most—down to earth, comfortable, and with some unexpected outcomes.