TIME FLIES by Claire Cook
Dark and introspective tales that claw through my intestines and torque my heart tend to shuffle to the top of my TBR pile. But I get as excited about Stephen King as Virginia Woolf. I quiver over a tight mystery—thank you, Sara J. Henry—and Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown have satisfied my romance cravings on more than one occasion. Mixing it up is part of the fun. I had just finished Doctor Sleep and 1 Dead in Attic and needed a story with humor, so I reached for Claire Cook’s Time Flies.
Since I have never had the slightest desire to attend any of my high school reunions, the premise intrigued me. Melanie, also a woman of a certain age, is nudged into attending her HS reunion by her best friend BJ and an old flame, Finn, she doesn’t quite remember. My friends have coaxed me to do some zany things, and there are plenty of people I don’t remember from high school who have remembered me over the years. Melanie also has a driving phobia that may keep her from following through on what could be not only an adventure, but also a turning point in her life. I experienced a short-lived driving phobia when I was pregnant with my third son. So I was all in when I cracked the spine of Time Flies.
Cook presents her heroine as a woman of a certain age with the worries and energy of a twenty or thirty-something. Thank you. Thank you. I’m far closer to AARP than twenty-one, but inside I don’t feel any different than I did in my late twenties. Women are girlish and womanly all at once, all through their lives. Cook gets that. I saw Melanie as the silly me I often wished I was in high school. That said, I found it difficult to believe the sexual overtones Melanie encouraged accidentally, on-purpose with Finn. And I can’t remember the last time I flirted. But I often imagine how much fun it would be to fall in love all over again.
Perhaps there was even an air of mystery about me. I liked that.
I liked Melanie, and related to her desire for change. She’s independent and confident in her career, while behaving as a social misfit in her personal life. She is real. A woman we can recognize. And if writers ever question what it means for a character to see the world through their specific point of view, Claire Cook can show you the way. Melanie sees everything in the world through her eyes as a metal sculptor. Here’s a moment after she cuts up her marriage mattress with a chain saw.
Even before I worked the first steel spring free from the mattress foundation, I knew it would be a skirt. A great big Southern hoop skirt that twirled around and around and around. Next would come a parasol with a handle made of steel rebar, or even a splurge of copper pipe.
I enjoyed all the above, but my women’s fiction craving wasn’t satisfied. Halfway through the novel I was still waiting for the action. As quirky as some of Melanie and BJ’s antics were, the chapters on the road came across as an extended set up rather than advancing the plot.
As much as I liked Melanie, I disliked BJ. Her self-centered, desperate-to-be-the-life-of-the-party attitude combined with her denial about how important she was in high school, and how important high school is in the grand scheme of life annoyed me. The way BJ and Melanie treated their friends Jan and Veronica irked me. The interactions with Jan and Veronica turn out to be key moments for Melanie’s transformation in the end. And BJ also has a bit of an awakening. However, even though the pay off came, I wondered about the delivery. Could there have been a stronger way to tighten the action and enhance the conflict within the scenes that eventually bring about change? There are plenty of external complications, but I wanted more inner turmoil or conscious struggle in those moments.
I think part of me was disappointed with Time Flies because I so enjoyed Must Love Dogs. I was also disappointed in my disappointment. Than a couple days after I finished Cook’s novel I understood why. Throughout Melanie and BJ’s journey they often refer to either Thelma and Louise—a screenplay I enjoyed with characters I could connect with completely—and Romy and Michele, characters I knew nothing about until I caught Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion on cable. As I watched the film I realized why I didn’t fully connect with Cook’s characters: I’m not her target audience. I wasn’t even slightly amused by Romy and Michele, and I like both Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. A lot of the humor in Time Flies is in the same vein and that funny flow is not what floats my particular canoe. So it’s not so much Cook’s novel as me.
In the end, I have to say Time Flies is the sherbet of Women’s Fiction. It’s not for everyone, but it’s as important as an actual dish of sherbet served to cleanse the palette between the meat and fish courses, and provides much needed variety.
Time Flies is a trip down memory lane for many woman of a certain age or younger. It will lighten your mood while dishing up lessons of storytelling every writer needs to know.