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Flyover Lives
     

Flyover Lives

by Diane Johnson, Suzanne Toren (Performed by)
 

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Le Divorce, a dazzling meditation on the mysteries of the “wispy but material” family ghosts who shape us

Growing up in the small river town of Moline, Illinois, Diane Johnson always dreamed of floating down the Mississippi and off to see the world. Years later, at home in France, a

Overview


From the New York Times bestselling author of Le Divorce, a dazzling meditation on the mysteries of the “wispy but material” family ghosts who shape us

Growing up in the small river town of Moline, Illinois, Diane Johnson always dreamed of floating down the Mississippi and off to see the world. Years later, at home in France, a French friend teases her: “Indifference to history—that’s why you Americans seem so naïve and don’t really know where you’re from.”

The j’accuse stayed with Johnson. Were Americans indifferent to history? Her own family seemed always to have been in the Midwest. Surely they had got there from somewhere? In digging around, she discovers letters and memoirs written by generations of stalwart pioneer ancestors that testify to more complex times than the derisive nickname “The Flyover” gives the region credit for.

With the acuity and sympathy that her novels are known for, she captures the magnetic pull of home against our lust for escape and self-invention. This spellbinding memoir will appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, Patricia Hampl, and Annie Dillard.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/18/2013
Award-winning novelist and essayist (L’Affair) Johnson explores her Midwestern roots and family history in this charming and candid memoir. Using letters written by her pioneer ancestors, the author delves into family stories while examining the lure she always felt to leave her comfortable home in Moline, Ill. “A pleasant place, surrounded by cornfields, I had always longed to get out of.” Johnson eventually got her wish, expanding her cultural horizons by living in California, London, and France. Johnson fills her chronological narrative with glimpses into the lives of her the 18th-century ancestors—lives filled with departures for the New World, religious revelations, and the painting, quilting, knitting, crocheting, and canning skills that preoccupied her female ancestor’s lives and were common activities for both her mother and aunts. Johnson’s tale tips into contemporary times with recollections of her family’s love for bucolic self-reliance, played out in their summer home; her Protestant upbringing; and her experiences in New York while a guest editor at Mademoiselle alongside Sylvia Plath. Johnson lightly touches on her two marriages and her writing career. An enjoyable peek into how America shaped one celebrated author’s consciousness. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Johnson hardly has to whip out her writing credentials, having been a two-time finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in essay, biography, and fiction. Long a resident of France, she was surprised when a friend there said of Americans, "You don't really know where you're from." Inspired, Johnson dug up a rich lode of information about her intrepid pioneer ancestors in and around small-town Moline, IL—hence the "flyover" in the title. Many readers will identify, and more will enjoy.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-28
A European's challenge inspires a family history. Essayist, novelist and biographer Johnson (Lulu in Marrakech, 2008, etc.) became interested in her ancestors when a French friend remarked that Americans care so little about their pasts. Taking the criticism as a kind of dare, the author set out to unearth her origins in the Midwest, dismissively called "the Flyover." Growing up in Moline, Ill., in the 1940s, she admits, was uneventful. Her father was a school principal, her mother an art teacher; her extended family abounded in aunts, uncles and cousins. However, no one cared about the family's old-world roots. "We were Default Americans, plump, mild, and Protestant," writes Johnson, "people whose ancestors had come ashore God knew when and had lost interest in keeping track of the details…." Details, though, are what Johnson was after, and she found a treasure in a diary written in 1876 by her great-great-grandmother Catharine Perkins Martin. The diary, along with earlier letters and deeds, informs Johnson's narrative of her family's 18th- and 19th-century experiences. Catharine, newly married to a physician, settled in Illinois in 1826. Her life was hard; within five years, she had three daughters. In 1831, scarlet fever swept through the country, and within two weeks, all three were dead. Out of five more children, only one daughter survived; she married a man who fought in the Civil War. Johnson complements Catharine's memoir with her own recollections: summers at the family's cabin; afternoons at the movies; teachers' encouragement of her writing talent; a stint at Mademoiselle alongside Sylvia Plath, who "wore a merry face and a perfect pageboy bob"; marriages, motherhood, career. Some brief chapters seem like hastily recorded impressions, and a few are a bit shapeless. Nevertheless, Johnson, twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, is a felicitous writer, cheerfully alert to irony and absurdity. The unfailing deftness of the prose makes this book a pleasure.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781480575530
Publisher:
Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
01/28/2014
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Early Praise for Flyover Lives by Diane Johnson:

"Johnson is a felicitous writer, cheerfully alert to irony and absurdity. The unfailing deftness of the prose makes this book a pleasure."
Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author


Diane Johnson is an American-born novelist and essayist. A two-time finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in three different genres—essay, biography, and fiction—she is the author of a dozen novels, including Le Divorce, Le Mariage, and L’Affaire. Here she returns to the mode of her classic biography, Lesser Lives. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and splits her time between San Francisco and Paris.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Paris, France, and San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
April 28, 1934
Place of Birth:
Moline, Illinois
Education:
B.A., University of Utah; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA, 1968

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