One thing I really like to do in summer is read books outside of my typical fare. So when I got an opportunity to review Susan Fales-Hill’s debut novel One Flight Up I said yes, mostly because I haven’t read much fiction from contemporary African-American authors, and I’m always trying to make up for gaps in my reading resume.
One Flight Up tells the story of four high school friends approaching their 40th birthday, each trying to come to terms with where her choices have taken her – and trying to decide if there’s still time to make changes. Think of the Sex and the City crew with a multicultural vibe, now relying on control-top pantyhose to keep those expensive pencil skirts looking smooth, and you’re starting to get the idea. All of these women are privileged, wealthy and accomplished. But none of them is really happy with their current situation.
The omniscient narration centers on perfectionist India Chumley, a brilliant, mixed-race divorce attorney (her mother is a white stage actress, her black father is long dead) who longs for love but is determined to avoid all the mistakes she’s watched others make in their marriages – which predictably leaves her single. Her married best friends fare little better, though. Abby, a Jewish woman, adores her philandering WASPy sculptor husband, despite his churlish, needy attitude. Latina heiress Esme loves her true-blue WASP Tim too, but doesn’t find their conventional life stimulating, emotionally or sexually. Obstetrician Monique married her Harvard educated husband and built the perfect African-American power couple. And now that she has it all, she realizes that she gave up a lot in bed. Are you getting the idea that the relationships in this book revolve around sex? You’re on the right track.
This book was originally described to me as “beachy,” but I’m not sure I’d describe it that way. The themes were too serious for what I’d describe as a true beach book. The characters are not the one-dimensional icons that often inhabit beach reads – they’re actually really complex, flawed and interesting. In fact, looking at my own 20th wedding anniversary this year, I admit I found myself wishing that at least one of the couples could be happy in that romance novel sort of way. But this book doesn’t provide those kinds of easy answers.
My biggest issue with the book has to do with balance. Male cheaters were all considered dogs. Fine, I’m on board. But they also seemed to be the only “sexy” men in the book. The faithful guys were all rather a snore. That sets every relationship up for failure, which might make good drama, but also sustains a stereotype of modern romance that I don’t really appreciate. All the women’s infidelities, on the other hand, seemed somehow “explainable.” But I’d argue that makes total sense from the perspective of a group of girlfriends. There’s not a lot you wouldn’t forgive your best girlfriend, is there? That's what I'm talking about.
Even though One Flight Up wasn’t what I expected, I did enjoy it. Fales-Hill is a good story teller, and I’m looking forward to watching her technique mature. It was fun reading a book from a different cultural perspective, especially one that takes place in my hometown of New York. (I could have missed the copious descriptions of designer outfits, but that’s just me. I’m sure to some people it would be fascinating.) If you like contemporary romances, and are interested in a multicultural perspective in your reading, I'd suggest you give this book a try.
This book in one sentence: Guys who cheat get caught, and girls who cheat get designer accessories.
THE GIVEAWAY: Atria Books has kindly offered a copy of One Flight Up for me to giveaway to a Col Reads reader from the US! Just leave a comment with your email address below by August 2. I’ll number the comments, and random.org will choose the lucky winner. Thanks to Cristina Suarez at Atria for providing this giveaway!
FTC Disclosure: Atria Books provided me with a copy of this book, in return for my honest opinion.