In the Un­likely Event by Judy Blume, Al­fred A. Knopf/Ran­dom House, 402 pages

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - — Jen­nifer Levin

In her new novel for adult read­ers, Judy Blume has wo­ven to­gether all the el­e­ments that made her pre­vi­ous nov­els — most of them writ­ten for chil­dren — so en­gross­ing. Ado­les­cent angst, the chaos of fam­i­lies, loss, and the con­tin­u­a­tion of life: they’re all there. In the Un­likely Event takes place mostly in the 1950s, in El­iz­a­beth, New Jer­sey. Blume’s cru­cial sense of time and place, in­te­gral to books like Tiger Eyes and Star­ring Sally J. Freed­man as

Her­self, is the nec­es­sary an­chor in an evoca­tive plot about air­plane crashes and trauma that fea­tures a ver­i­ta­ble flight man­i­fest’s worth of char­ac­ters. Blume sketches the pop­u­la­tion of a town through the peo­ple who, some­times tan­gen­tially, touch the life of fif­teen-year-old Miri Am­mer­man, al­low­ing the nar­ra­tive point of view to flit from per­son to per­son, ever widen­ing the scope of the story, which is loosely based on a real se­ries of plane crashes that oc­curred near Ne­wark Air­port in 1951 and 1952, when Blume was grow­ing up.

Miri lives with her mother, Rusty, her grand­mother, Irene, and her un­cle, Henry, a re­porter for the El­iz­a­beth Daily Post. Her first best friend is Natalie, and her sec­ond best friend is Suzanne; early in the book, she at­tends her first boy-girl party. When the air­planes begin to fall out of the sky, ev­ery­one reacts dif­fer­ently. Some of Miri’s friends think it’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of aliens or a Com­mu­nist plot, but Miri doesn’t know what to think, and her mother and grand­mother would pre­fer she didn’t dwell on the hor­ror. But Miri has learned you can’t al­ways trust adults to tell you the truth or to know what the truth is, es­pe­cially when ev­ery­thing else in her life is chang­ing so quickly. She has just met a boy, Ma­son, and she is fall­ing in love. As ter­ror in El­iz­a­beth mounts, Blume man­ages to make Miri’s con­cerns im­por­tant, with the clear un­der­stand­ing that not ev­ery­thing she and the other younger char­ac­ters be­lieve to be dire re­ally is. There is also a sense of adult busi­ness — work, mar­riage, di­vorce — although read­ers look­ing for steamy scenes akin to those in Wifey, one of Blume’s pre­vi­ous for­ays into fic­tion for adults, will be dis­ap­pointed.

Blume is seventy-seven years old. Per­haps she has sev­eral more books to write, but if she doesn’t, In the Un­likely Event is a fine gift from a living leg­end — a long novel so easy to lose your­self in that it will re­mind fans why they loved her in the first place. The worlds she cre­ates are not a fan­tasy es­cape but a vivid ren­der­ing and ex­pla­na­tion of our own re­al­ity.

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