Flying Changes: A Novel

Flying Changes: A Novel

by Sara Gruen
Flying Changes: A Novel

Flying Changes: A Novel

by Sara Gruen


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There is a time to move on, a time to let go . . . and a time to fly.

Anxiety rules Annemarie Zimmer’s days—the fear that her relationship with the man she loves is growing stagnant; the fear that her equestrian daughter Eva’s dreams of Olympic glory will carry her far away from her mother . . . and into harm’s way. For five months, Annemarie has struggled to make peace with her past. But if she cannot let go, the personal battles she has won and the heights she has achieved will have all been for naught.

It is a time of change at Maple Brook Horse Farm, when loves must be confronted head-on and fears must be saddled and broken. But it is an unanticipated tragedy that will most drastically alter the fragile world of one remarkable family—even as it flings open gates that have long confined them, enabling them all to finally ride headlong and free.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061241093
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 845,187
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Sara Gruen is the author of the New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons. She lives with her husband and three children in a conservation community outside Chicago.

Read an Excerpt

Flying Changes

By Sara Gruen

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Sara Gruen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060790954

Chapter One

I awake with a start -- one moment I'm riding Harry, my zephyr half, my phantom boy, and the next my eyelids flicker and I'm staring at the ceiling. When I realize I'm not on his back at all -- I'm huddled under an eiderdown in the freezing bedroom of the apartment above my mother's stable -- I close my eyes and lie perfectly still, trying to coax him to stay. But it's no use -- his body dissolves, the reins melt in my hands, and he gallops off, ephemeral as breath on the wind. I move not a muscle, listening as his hoofbeats fade into the ether.

I hear them. I swear to God I do.

Harry wafts into my sleep with a regularity that's astounding considering how effectively he used to elude me. For years after his death I longed for him so badly that I'd squeeze my eyes shut at night and cycle endlessly through visions of him -- Harry, with his head high and nostrils flared, cantering through a meadow; Harry, sniffing the wind, his ears perked and chest as solid as bedrock; Harry, flinging those magnificent brindled limbs forward like a Saddlebred -- hoping they'd seed a dream.

But they never did. No matter how fiercely I clung to him, at the critical juncture when I lost control he'd slip away to wherever he was, whatever was left, in that place I wasn't allowed. The few times he did come to me were unbidden and horrifying, and always at the precise moment he crashed to his death beneath me all those years ago.

No more. Now he comes to me in plain view, healthy and whole. And I'm thirty-nine, not eighteen. Sometimes I'm on his back and we're cantering through fields of swaying grass. Sometimes I'm standing at his shoulder and he's blowing into my hand, rumbling a greeting from deep within his chest. Sometimes we're even taking fences, one after another in perfect rhythm.

More than two decades gone, and he looms as large in my dreamscape as he did in my life.

A psychologist would probably say that he's always been there and it's only now that I'm letting him come. That I am finally at the point where I can think about him without falling to pieces. This is what I think a psychologist would say. But I can't be sure, because I won't see one.

Both Mutti and Dan have suggested it, separately, although for the life of me I can't figure out why. Both times my reaction was a combination of sputtering indignation and hurt tinged with anger. That, and an instant replaying of all my recent actions and comments to try to discover why, exactly, everybody around me always thinks I'm nuts. But I must confess that later -- in the privacy of my room, when there was no longer any need to feel defensive -- I found the idea intriguing. Not intriguing enough to actually consider it, of course, but intriguing enough that I began trying to guess what a psychologist would make of me. It's probably not the healthiest pastime for someone who already analyzes things to shreds, but there it is and there's no stopping it. You can't pluck an idea out like you can a sliver.

But while Pseudo-Psychologist Me has decided that my dreams are filled to overflowing with Harry because finding his brother has allowed me to heal, there's another part of me that believes in some way I cannot define and would never admit to that Harry has found a way to come back to me, is giving me his blessing, is glad I have Hurrah safely in a box stall beneath me.

I hug my pillow and sigh, my heart swollen and tender as if I've dreamed of a lover. It's a feeling that will take the length of the day to wear off, and I'm grateful.

It is his gift to me.

I dress quickly, hunched against the cold. I left the window open a crack last night, and my breath comes in puffs as I pull on my jeans, sweater, and quilted vest. I pause at the door and then go back to my dresser to drag a brush through my scraggly hair. I'll make myself properly presentable later, but at nearly forty you don't just roll out of bed and go even if you're not expecting to run into anyone. Particularly if you have a sixteen-year-old daughter who is mortified when, as Eva puts it, she catches me "looking like a sea hag."

I cleaned my brush only the day before yesterday, but it is once again full of hair. The tangled mess rips free with a noise like Velcro opening. I examine it, analyzing the white-to-blonde ratio. Still mostly blonde, thank God -- although I have to hold a couple of the hairs up to the light to make sure. Then I lean forward and peer into the mirror, studying both hair and face for general impressions.

A minute later I hurry down the stairs, booted feet thumping the wood. The main floor of the stable is even colder than the apartment. It's heated, but not to house standards because the horses go out without blankets and we don't want to compromise their winter coats. I rub my hands together, hoping to warm them by friction. I slip into the lounge, which is heated separately, twist the thermostat to a sizzling seventy-four degrees, and start a pot of coffee.

And now, for my early morning tonic.

Three or four times a week, fresh from dreams of his brother, I slip downstairs and ride Hurrah. I ride other horses during the day, usually in the context of giving a lesson and finding it easier to show rather than tell, but never Hurrah. Hurrah I ride in private.


Excerpted from Flying Changes by Sara Gruen Copyright © 2005 by Sara Gruen.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide



Five months after making peace with her past, Annemarie Zimmer (of Riding Lessons) struggles to maintain her equilibrium. Her fortieth birthday only a month away, she's trying to regain control over her relationship with her daughter, Eva, and her relationship with her new love, Dan.

At the same time as Annemarie worries about losing Eva, things with Dan have ground to a halt. He has been away much of the winter and when he is around shows no signs of wanting to move forward with their relationship. Annemarie assumes he finds her too flawed. Even more troubling, she wonders whether Dan doesn't want to marry her because she knows he wanted children and she is unable to have any more-an issue that is particularly painful because ex-husband Roger and his new wife Sonja have just had a baby.

Suddenly a tragic accident involving Roger and his wife turns Annemarie's world upside down. But from the tragedy Annemarie finds the strength she needs to hold her fragile new family together.

Questions for Discussion


1. At the beginning of the book, Annemarie doesn't let anyone in her family watch her as she rides Hurrah, preferring to keep this side of herself private. Do you think that everybody has a secret self, and can hiding an important part of yourself from your loved ones ever be a healthy thing?

2. Annemarie is shocked to learn how hard it was for her mother to send her away to train with Marjory when she was a teenager, just as Annemarie is afraid to send Eva away to train with Nathalie. How hard do you think it is for women to understand their mothers and what they went through in raising them, even when they are going through an identical situation? How difficult do you think it is, in any situation, to get out of your own head and put yourself in the place of the other person?

3. Annemarie runs out on her romantic birthday dinner with Dan after he presents her with earrings instead of an engagement ring. Do you think she overreacted, or do you understand why she was so upset?

4. When Eva fails at her first event, she initially wants to quit riding, just as Annemarie did following her accident more than 20 years before. How difficult do you think it is to brush yourself off and move on after a serious failure? Do you think failure is more likely to ultimately make a person stronger or break a spirit forever?

5. How do you think the loss of the Old Man of the Mountain foreshadows the events that are about to take place in Annemarie and Eva's lives? Can you think of any other examples of foreshadowing in the book?

6. Annemarie is sure, almost from the start, that she wants to take custody of Jeremy following the death of Roger and Sonja. Do you think that most women would be able to move past their resentments (especially if, as in this case, their husband left them for the other woman) in order to raise the child of their ex and his new wife?

7. After her father's death, Eva feels guilty for being upset about missing her horse, Joe, instead of focusing solely on her father. Why do you think guilt is so often tied in with grief?

8. At the end of the book, Annemarie finally lets Dan watch her as she rides Hurrah, and she also makes a jump for the first time since her accident. What life change leading up to this moment, from her marriage to new motherhood to watching Eva make a successful jump at her second big event, do you think was most crucial to Annemarie's healing?

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