Not-so-smooth LAND­ING

Stow­away sparks dra­matic chain of events

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

PIC­TURE this: a plane glid­ing over Lon­don’s Richmond sub­urb, headed for Heathrow, re­leases its land­ing gear. Out of the nar­row space be­hind the wheels hur­tles a stow­away: he streaks through the re­main­ing strip of sky and crash-lands on the roof of a parked car, crum­pling it like tin­foil. So be­gins Kate Pullinger’s 10th novel, Land­ing Gear, and the ac­tion barely takes a breather aafter this punchy open­ing. Pullinger, who won the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Lit­er­ary Award for Fic­tion for 2009’s The Mis­tress of Noth­ing, is a pro when it comes to read­able yet provoca­tive fic­tion, and her pow­ers are in ev­i­dence here. In­spired by a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle abouta land­ing-gear stow­aways pub­lishedli in The Guardianin in 2001, Land­ing Gear takes as its pri­mary con­ceit thet pos­si­bil­ity that such stow­aways canc oc­ca­sion­ally sur­vive the dread­ful fall. Yacub, a slen­der, soft-spo­ken Pak­istani mi­grant worker es­cap­ing a Dubai labour camp, is the stow­away in ques­tion. The car he hits be­longs to Har­riet, a mid­dle-aged re­porter ob­ses­sively stock­ing up on su­per­mar­ket pro­vi­sions. She is still smart­ing from her hus­band Michael’s brief but dis­as­trous af­fair; her teenaged son Jack is slip­ping be­tween fam­ily si­lences into dan­ger­ous ado­les­cent crises. Post-crash, Har­riet brings the mirac­u­lously un­harmed Yacub home for a few days, lit­tle guess­ing the im­pact his pres­ence will have on her frac­tured fam­ily. An­other thing Har­riet does not know: she is be­ing tailed by the mys­te­ri­ous Emily, a young doc­u­men­tary film­maker who has caught Yacub’s fall on cam­era. Land­ing Gear slips neatly into a chick-lit niche, cover de­sign and all (woman in a pretty out­fit, ethe­real mo­tif), but its tenor isn’t pre­cisely light. In places, the novel’s style is rem­i­nis­cent of North­ern Ir­ish nov­el­ist Mag­gie O’Far­rell ( The Dis­tance Be­tween Us, In­struc­tions for a Heat Wave). Like O’Far­rell, Pullinger is con­cerned with the com­plex con­nec­tions be­tween at­om­ized in­di­vid­u­als: What pulls people apart? What draws them to­gether? The an­swers, Land­ing Gear sug­gests, are un­pre­dictable. Pullinger main­tains a de­tached, de­scrip­tive tone through much of the novel, which oc­ca­sion­ally cre­ates the ef­fect that Land­ing Gear is a sort of emo­tional re­search project. Too much “tell” ver­sus “show” weighs down the story in places (“Mal­lory had Peter when she was in her early 20s. She’d been a sin­gle par­ent; Peter was grown now, near the end of his med­i­cal train­ing”). Some­times mun­dane rep­e­ti­tion, rather than adding to an at­mos­phere of gen­eral malaise in Har­riet’s house­hold, be­comes an­noy­ing — for ex­am­ple, the reader is re­minded over three times in the span of 30 pages that Michael “came home late and left early ev­ery day.” Most read­ers don’t need to be told this kind of thing twice to get the gen­eral idea. But the end­ing of Land­ing Gear takes the whole project up a mighty notch. One by one, each of the char­ac­ters is in­vited to tell the story in his or her own voice, doc­u­men­tarystyle. “Turn the cam­era on, I’m ready,” says Yacub. “Come on,” says Har­riet, “let’s do this thing.” Jack asks, “What do you want me to talk about?” Fi­nally un­leashed, their voices are re­mark­able, full of nuance and colour. Pullinger’s writ­ing is at its strong­est when she gets out of the way and lets her char­ac­ters speak for them­selves.

Juli­enne Isaacs is a Win­nipeg-based writer and edi­tor.

Land­ing Gear

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