Sarah Pekkanen’s Catching Air

If you had the opportunity to leave everything behind and start a new life, would you take it? In Sarah Pekkanen’s new novel, Catching Air, she writes about two couples tied together through blood and little else, who embark on such a journey, and a mysterious woman who joins them with secrets of her own.

Kira was an associate at a law firm in Florida and was so stressed and overworked that she barely had time to do anything else. Her husband Peter had different jobs here and there, but it was Kira who was the bread winner. Then comes the phone call for them to join Peter’s brother Rand in Vermont to help run a bed-and-breakfast, and the normally practical couple decide to make the leap. Little did they know that it wasn’t going to be as simple as it sounded, and issues that they had long buried would start surfacing.

When Alyssa and Rand decided to buy the bed-and-breakfast, they thought it was going to be like every other one of their adventures – something they would do for a short period of time until they grew bored, then leave it behind and venture onto the next thing. But, even for the world’s most carefree couple, life gets in the way. Will they be able to make it or will it be the thing that tears them apart?

Then there’s Dawn, a young woman who fled from a bad situation and ended up at the bed-and-breakfast in Vermont. Will she be able to safely start a new life or will her past come back for her?

Catching Air is about people at a crossroads in their lives, which is why I think that it is so appealing. We all reach them, some not as obvious as others, but, every time we have to make a decision, whether it be getting a new job, ending a relationship, moving, we don’t realize just how much it will impact our lives. It is the way we behave and the choices that we make that make us who we are, that allow us to fail or succeed, which is what Pekkanen is showing us. Running away doesn’t solve anything because you’re not really making a decision as much as you are avoiding it, which only works for so long. You can’t run away from life. You always have to make a decision in the end.

20140707-091051-33051926.jpg

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful & Damned

First published by Scribner in 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned is a story about love, hope and dreams, and what happens when relationships unravel, hope fades, and dreams come true only after you’ve hit your breaking point and therefore can no longer appreciate them. Thought to be based in part on Fitzgerald’s life with Zelda, the novel follows the lives of Anthony Patch and his wife, the beautiful Gloria Gilbert – socialites that inevitably fall from grace because they’re too focused on seeking out the pleasures of life without any of the responsibilities.

In a book review for the New York Times by Louise Maunsell Field in 1922, she writes that, “its slow-moving narrative is the record of lives utterly worthless utterly futile. Not one of the book’s main characters…ever rises to the level of decent humanity.” In many ways, Field was not wrong. When we first meet the novel’s main protagonist, Anthony Patch, he is self-absorbed and living in a small apartment with a servant who comes in in the morning to clean and make Anthony breakfast. He has no profession, choosing to avoid the work-force altogether, but lives under the façade that he is trying to write the next American novel. He spends much of his time socializing with friends and women, accepting an allowance from his grandfather, the wealthy Adam Patch, while waiting for him to die so that he can inherit his fortune.

Anthony’s life doesn’t change that much after he meets and marries Gloria Gilbert because Gloria is the same way as him, wanting to spend her life as leisurely and full of excitement as possible. Much of the novel’s focus is on the parties that Gloria and Anthony host at their apartment in the city and “little gray house” upstate. These parties comprised of endless streams of people drinking excessively for days at a time. We watch Gloria and Anthony go deeper and deeper into debt, selling off bonds like water and downsizing places of residence numerous times. When Adam Patch dies and they learn that they were left with nothing in the will, a length legal battle ensures, but it is not until Anthony is dragged to the brink of insanity that there is a resolution. Their life of leisure and wealth resumes, but it does so at the cost of everything else.

In a way, The Beautiful and Damned can be looked at as a tale of morality. How, having all the money in the world doesn’t matter if you lose your own soul to get it, and how a life of leisure doesn’t necessarily bring about happiness or excitement. What really matters in life is the quality of it and the people who you choose to surround yourself with…a lesson that Gloria and Anthony never learned. This may not have been Fitzgerald’s most exciting book (it was a bit mundane), but his brilliant writing is there.

“After a few tastes of this latter dish I had had enough. Here! I said, Experience is not worth the getting. It’s not a thing that happens pleasantly to a passive you – it’s a wall that an active you runs up against. So I wrapped myself in what I thought was my invulnerable skepticism and decided that my education was complete. But it was too late. Protect myself as I might by making no new ties with tragic and predestined humanity, I was lost with the rest. I had traded the fight against love for the fight against loneliness, the fight against life for the fight against death.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned