From the first few sentences of Jane Harrington’s IN CIRCLING FLIGHT, the reader is transported into Leda’s world–a woman who is struggling to put her life back together after the death of her husband– and the spell does not break, even when the novel takes an unexpected turn into the backstory of a seemingly minor character. Living in a remote house in the Blue Ridge Mountains Leda tends to her goats, adopts a dog with whom she shares her deep grief, and ultimately takes a teaching job at a small college, bringing her into contact with a few other lost souls. These tentative forays into relationship open up a wider dialogue about the nature of family, community, and how a connection to land and nature can bring a healing like no other.
Harrington’s prose is spare, evocative, heady with imagination, and drily hilarious. Leda’s internal monologue, initially directed towards her dog Sirius as stand-in for the husband she lost, is a masterclass in literary stages of grief; bewilderment and rage threaten to consume her, but the very act of speaking (writing) keeps her alive long enough to regain her footing. Taking a job at the college introduces her to El, a student who needs Leda as much as Leda needs to be needed and their awkward and touching friendship provides the steps forward to a renewal of life. Soon after, Leda meets Shannon and her small son Mitch and is invited into an entire history of Appalachia of which she’d been formerly unaware; this is where Harrington’s novel starts to truly soar. The depiction of their dogged fight to save their land from development keeps an eye on the past while remaining clear-eyed about the future; it’s a battle for their lives, their children, and their history, but the novel never veers into activism disguised as prose. At the heart of IN CIRCLING FLIGHT is an aching need for relationship in the face of terrible, uncontrollable forces of war, mental illness, loss of home, and abandonment. Despite these weighty topics, the characters of Leda and Shannon, manage to be oh so human; quirky, fumbling, funny, yearning, and when the surprise of love interests Sean and Dot appear, Harrington draws them with the same care, managing to make them worthy companions to these women the reader has come to love.
Without spoiling the magic of the mid-novel shift in perspective, the backstory of one character’s history is a fascinating switch of tone and narrative. Startling at first, it quickly becomes apparent that this part of the story needs to be told– both to the reader and the characters. Harrington seamlessly blends the old tale into the new–or vice versa–and the culmination of both is enthralling.
IN CIRCLING FLIGHT, Jane Harrington’s captivating novel about the initially tenuous but ultimately resilient connections of a few friends in Appalachia, hits every literary and emotional note with skill and purity.
~Shari Simpson for IndieReader