Prather’s Pick: Judy Blume’s new novel
Although this week’s novel for adults is a work of fiction, author Judy Blume says that the catastrophic events at the center of the plot really happened.
Blume writes that she grew up in Eiizabeth, New Jersey where “In the Unlikely Event” was set. In the winter of 1951-52 she was a teenager. That’s when three airplane crashes occurred after takeoff from Newark Airport.
This week’s book is Blume’s latest novel. “In the Unlikely Event” is published by Alfred A.
Knopf Publishers, 2015. Blume is a well-known author of twenty-eight previous titles for all ages. She is perhaps best known for the “Fudge” books for younger readers and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” for middle-grade readers. She has written three adult novels.
This week’s novel begins on February 10, 1987, “Thirty-five Years Later.” Miri Ammerman boards a plane, heading for Elizabeth to attend a commemoration ceremony. Following the two-page introduction, the novel shifts backwards in time to December 1951 when Miri is 15 years old.
Miri lives with her mother, Rusty Ammerman, in a two-family house on Sayre Street. Miri and her mother live upstairs, and Irene, Rusty’s mother, lives downstairs with Rusty’s brother, Henry. He is a reporter for the Elizabeth Daily Post. Miri was born when Rusty was 18. Miri has never met her father, at least at the beginning of the novel.
There are lots of characters in this novel. When I first started reading, I made a list so that I could keep them straight. Each chapter is divided by character names so that the point of view shifts from one to another. For example, in Chapter 1, under Irene, the reader learns that, since Hanukkah and Christmas fall at the same time this year, she is hosting an open house where invited guests can buy everything from gemstones to Ronson lighters — and have them gift-wrapped, too.
Just before the open house gets started, Estelle Sapphire calls. She can’t get there because she’s getting ready to fly to Florida the next morning. Would Irene set aside some compacts? Her husband Ben will pick them up.
The reader learns about Ruby Granik, too. She’s a professional dancer who will be flying to Miami to dance at the Vagabond Club.
So, the next morning is cold and windy. The Newark Airport records a new low of six degrees at 7 a.m. The flight to Miami is delayed two hours and then delayed again. While she waits, Ruby overhears Ben and Estelle talking. Estelle reminds Ben to pick up the compacts from Irene’s house.
Finally, at 3 p.m., the passengers board the plane. Estelle is in a seat behind Ruby. Ruby has a window seat. Ruby’s seatmate has a seven-month-old baby. Ruby, who has flown a lot, knows that something is wrong. The plane isn’t climbing. Then the wing falls off the plane, and they’re falling.
Meanwhile, in Elizabeth, Henry and the managing editor’s nephew are just outside the Elks Club. They hear a roar. A plane is falling about one hundred feet above them. There are flames. Henry knows this is his front page story.
Miri and Rusty are returning home from a movie. There are kids on the street. A ball of fire is heading toward them. They’re all knocked down.
Henry reaches the Elizabeth River where the plane has landed belly down with a wing sticking straight up. 56 people are killed, including Ruby and Estelle.
But that’s not all. Within eight weeks there are two more airplane crashes in Elizabeth. They affect all the people in one way or another. There’s a lot going on in this novel. The final chapter is back to February 10, 1987 when Miri attends the ceremony with childhood friends, and the reader finds out what has become of all the characters.
You won’t be able to put this novel down. You can find it at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries or can purchase it, in hardcover, for $27.95.
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