Patti Callahan Henry was among the first authors I reviewed when I started this blog way back when. I had the opportunity to sit with her at dinner when she spoke to my mom’s literary club a few years back and was enthralled by her. She’s sweet, down to earth, and an Auburn grad – what’s not to love?
Coming Up for Air is her latest and eighth novel (in as many years), and it’s the best I’ve read so far.
Ellie Calvin is mourning the loss of her mother at too early an age when she sees her ex-boyfriend (Hutch) for the first time. Already feeling hemmed into a marriage whose edges are fraying (Henry’s metaphor, not mine), Ellie is energized by joining Hutch in his research for a documentary that includes time her mother spent in the civil right’s movement – something Ellie is surprised she knows little of.
The research leads Ellie to discover a life she didn’t know her mother had, including what seems to have been a true love abandoned. Learning these things makes Ellie question the decisions she’s made in her own life. Did she choose a safe life because her mother wanted her to? Would she be happier had she followed her heart?
While these questions aren’t unique, Henry creates a fresh and entertaining delivery for them.
What I think is interesting is how the idea of former loves revisited is a reoccurring theme in Henry’s work. Some of the aspects of Coming Up for Air parallel Henry’s own life – like her first child going off to school at Auburn. But what I know of her, she’s happily married with great kids. So, as a writer I wonder if this is her opportunity to live out alternate versions of her own life, and if so, what her husband thinks of that.
If you like contemporary Southern women’s fiction, you’ll enjoy the time you spend with Coming Up for Air.
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