Director Robert Altman died a few years ago and his absence is felt, especially when it comes to telling many stories with dozens of characters all at the same time. If you’ve seen Short Cuts then you’ll understand.
Devin Krukoff is a rising star in Canadian fiction and this is his second novel, after 2006’s Compensation. Flyways is a brilliant look into the lives of 35 different people as they face the common struggle of dealing with an advancing snowstorm on a big city. There are less than six degrees of separation between them all and each chapter is a link in the larger chain.
The concept is much easier said than accomplished but Krukoff handles it gracefully. He even goes one step further by introducing each new person in the story with a short description of a different species of bird. We are meant to believe that everyone has a bird totem like an animal guide and we all act accordingly.
Take Dawn, for example, as she is related to the reader as a grey partridge. This bird has a “stillness that is meditative, guided by an instinct that is not unlike love and a patience that is not unlike faith.”
She has had a tough life filled with pain and challenge but it has given her the ability to accept unpleasant situations with grace. She is able to face her boorish and childish boss Ingram with aplomb and a sense of humour after he has a skydiving accident. They pick up a hitchhiker on an ice-ridden road but Ingram gives her grief when the tires just spin on the slick surface.
“Well,” she replies, “I guess you’ll just have to get out and push.”
You could actually take all of these vignettes as separate short stories on their own but they flow nicely and naturally into each other with a kind of increasing psychological intensity as the storm worsens and the extremity of the players’ personalities gets more complex, human and real. Characters deal with teenage pregnancy, sadomasochism and the aforementioned skydiving as a form of psychotherapy.
Flyways is hard to put down and its story lingers in a very satisfying way.
The author does try perhaps a little too hard to add to the experience with his website at www.devinkrukoff.com. There are some nice videos in which he introduces himself and thanks those who helped him with the book before he starts reading some excerpts. However, there is also a strange but fun bird quiz with 10 questions that you can challenge yourself with. You can also listen to and practice some birdcalls. This book is great for people but the extras are definitely for the birds.
by Devin Krukoff