The Flight Attendant
by Chris Bohjalian
Published March 2018
The Flight Attendant gives a riveting look at an imperfect woman in a desperate situation.
Cassie is a hard drinking woman. Closing in on 40, she manages to hold down steady employment as a flight attendant. She’s a pro at her job. Reading people’s moods, anticipating needs, following flight protocol; it’s routine by now, even when done through the haze of a hangover.
In her personal life, though, Cassie’s a mess. She regularly drinks alcohol to the point of blacking out, parties, and sleeps with a string of random one-night stands. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she’s waking up next to a dead man.
From there, we enter a world of attorneys, spies, self doubt, and questions about who killed the man and why. Even more troubling, Cassie had blacked out the night before. She’s only about 85% sure she didn’t kill him.
It’s an interesting paradox, reading her journey. Cassie is so self-destructive. She seemingly makes an already-horrible situation worse for herself and everyone around her with every move. And yet, she is a sympathetic character.
Therein lies the magic of Chris Bohjalian. He does this sorcery in book after book. Here are a couple of things to appreciate in reading his oeuvre:
Multi-faceted, relatable characters
It would be so easy to not like Cassie. And that would be fine – unlikable characters can make for incredible books. But it’s commendable that Bohjalian doesn’t take the easy route of slut shaming Cassie and turning her into a morality tale.
In each of Bohjalian’s books, characters are richly complex. No one is purely evil and no one is purely good. Everyone is muddled. Reading The Guest Room, it’s easy to feel sympathy for the sex worker. With The Sleepwalker, it’s the unreliable sleepwalking mom. And here, the inclination is to root for Cassie, even though she self-sabotages all along the way. He can even make an assassin seem sympathetic.
This author knows his stuff. We as readers become de facto experts on the subject at hand. Russian sex trade, midwifery, flight attendant careers, sleepwalking…we learn all about these things in the course of following characters.
At the same time, it doesn’t feel like learning. We’re simply dropped into the world and in the course of the book, learn to speak the language without even realizing it.
Aside from these things, though, the books stand on the foundation of good storytelling.
The Flight Attendant is no exception. Ponder the complex character study or simply get lost in the swirl of intrigue – either way, it’s a great time.
I received an advance copy of this book, courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. For more info about NetGalley, watch my video on how to read books for free or cheap.
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