The years of Scarlet’s migration, through the decade of the 1990s up to this cool and puzzling spring of 2002, were relatively quiet ones for Addie. Had her mother somehow been holding her breath, reining herself in, waiting to see how far south, and now how near to this overdeveloped coastline, Scarlet would fly? Had she been watching for those final fledgling years to pass before her next and last great scheme? – from In Hovering Flight, page 8 –
In the first chapter of In Hovering Flight poet Scarlet Kavanagh arrives at the New Jersey shore home of her mother’s closest friend Cora to sit with her mother Addie as she dies. Scarlet’s father, a professor of ornithology at a small college in southern Pennsylvania, and Lou – another of her mother’s friends – are also present. Although the novel begins with Addie’s death, it is the lives of these characters, not the death of Addie, which the reader becomes enthralled with in this delicately unfolding novel about love and loss.
Addie Strumer Kavanagh is a college student when she meets Tom Kavanagh – her professor in Biology of the Birds. Addie’s love of drawing birds parallels Tom’s fascination with bird song, and when they marry they live in a small cabin in the Pennsylvania woods full of birds and close to bubbling creeks. When their daughter is born, she is named for the Scarlet Tanager which Addie has grown to love. Addie’s friends, Cora and Lou, move in and out of Tom and Addie’s lives – having children of their own and pursuing their own dreams, and yet sustaining a connection with each other. As in all great stories, the characters face challenges and grow and change through the years – Addie becomes obsessed with environmentalism and activism, Cora struggles to raise a child with autism, Tom must live with a mistake, Lou’s choice of men is never right, and beautiful Scarlet moves from girlhood to womanhood with all the struggles one might expect of a creative and sensitive child.
In Hovering Flight is a beautifully wrought and soothing story about what it means to love another, about the flaws in relationships and how they are sustained despite these flaws.
At that moment he knew that whatever happened in the following year, or the years after that, he had made one perfectly right decision: to be with her. And like Tom’s other certainties – the importance of work that one loves, the redemptive powers of music and poetry, the unquestionable clarity of evolutionary theory – he remained unflagging in this as well, in his love for Addie Kavanagh, “the Sturmer girl,” despite countless trials, for the rest of her life. – from In Hovering Flight, page 71 –
The novel is also about the ambivalent relationship between mother and daughter. Addie and Scarlet’s relationship is one of subtle conflict, doubt, awe, and ultimately deep love.
Two nights ago she’d held her mother’s hand and looked into her eyes, which were remarkably clear, despite her obvious pain; she had declined the medication the hospice workers offered for as long as she could, saying she wanted to stay as clear-headed as possible. As she gazed into those remarkable, impenetrable eyes, Scarlet said, “You’ve taught me so much.” It seemed that the words came, unaccountably, from her chest, which ached with a very real pain. Because Addie had taught her a great deal, and at that moment she could see it, and she longed for her mother to teach her more. – from In Hovering Flight, page 175 –
Throughout the novel, Hinnefeld wraps the themes of friendship, nature, the fragility of eco-systems, and art. These themes inspire the characters and bind them to each other. Hinnefeld’s writing is poetic, sensitive and evocative. I was touched by the very real struggles of her characters – their failed dreams, their conflicted love for each other, their doubts and triumphs. This debut novel is simply a joy to read – one which resonates with the songs of birds and the grace of the human spirit.