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In Hovering Flight

The quietly reliable narrator of In Hovering Flight, Joyce Hinnefeld’s first novel, is an everywoman character named Scarlet Kavanaugh, who, despite being raised unconventionally by her bird-loving parents, is a remarkably subtle and relatable character. Possessed of her own interesting personality, Scarlet isn’t excessively pro-nature like her recently deceased mother, Addie, or high society like their family friend, Lou. She is, however, the possessor of one of the three secrets that will eventually draw the primary themes of the entire novel together.

The quietly reliable narrator of In Hovering Flight, Joyce Hinnefeld’s first novel, is an everywoman character named Scarlet Kavanaugh, who, despite being raised unconventionally by her bird-loving parents, is a remarkably subtle and relatable character. Possessed of her own interesting personality, Scarlet isn’t excessively pro-nature like her recently deceased mother, Addie, or high society like their family friend, Lou. She is, however, the possessor of one of the three secrets that will eventually draw the primary themes of the entire novel together.

Even without these secrets to string the reader along, Hinnefeld’s character development would be enough to drive the story. Even the visual and figurative theme of nature and birds seems almost superfluous to the interactions of Scarlet and her parents and her mother’s friends. The omniscient distance between the reader and Hinnefeld’s characters creates a realistic boundary, as if Scarlet and her family are friends we’re hearing about after an interval of separation. At the same time, all the dramatics in the novel – an affair, an illegal burial, an illegitimate child – never seem too loud or overbearing.

The characters and relationships of In Hovering Flight are the backbone of the novel, but Hinnefeld’s descriptions of nature’s effects on the characters are no less impressive. Unlike other novels based on natural elements, such as Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping or Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, the characters aren’t used to flesh out the environment. Instead, it’s the other way around. Hinnefeld uses the birds and woods in her novel to enhance the personalities and relationships of her major characters. For example, take this passage where Scarlet remembers how her parents would make up lullabies to sing to her:

Tom and Addie sang it together, and as Scarlet drifted in and out of sleep the creek outside their door turned into the sea, black and sheltering, and she into not a seal but a cormorant, warm in the nest of her mother’s arms, floating there, flushed with warmth despite the cold surrounding them.

Scarlet’s understanding of her parents, as well as her relationship with them, ebbs and flows like the creek in their backyard. By the end of the novel, the reader feels not only a kinship with Scarlet, but the same understanding of her parents and the world surrounding them that she does.

Two of the characters from In Hovering Flight write books of their own, debut works that will also be their last. Hinnefeld, on the other hand, has written a novel that will hopefully create a devoted following of readers patiently awaiting her next excellent work.

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