I recently finished reading Ron Carlson’s collection of short stories, A Kind of Flying. It was originally recommended to me, some years ago, by my brother, Jay (though he does not remember this). I remember really enjoying it the first time around. But I wanted to read it again because I didn’t remember it well enough to ruin any of the stories. So I started reading it again around Christmastime. And I finished it on a plane flight from Chicago to Palm Springs. Since then, I’ve been thinking about it more than I would have anticipated.
At first, I thought I was enjoying it because of its beautiful prose. And it really is some lovely writing. Its cadence is slow and steady, always building towards something. The thoughtfulness of the characters indicates a very thoughtful writer. And the stories succeed on the most basic level with these little moments, little details, turns of phrase that just connect with the human experience. Even when Carlson is writing about Salt Lake City or Phoenix, I’m sucked back into personal memories of Shelby and Amsterdam.
These marks of good writing definitely kept me reading and enjoying the collection of short stories. But the thing that’s kept me thinking about the book is far more existential.
The book is mostly about identity and coming of age. Even though it’s a collection of short stories, where each piece is kind of trying to say its own thing, I can recognize a clear red line running through it all. And everything points to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man, a husband, a lover, a father, a human.
It’s so close to the mark that it’s quite uncomfortable at times. Carlson does a good job of digging into the self-centered, lustful, immature aspects of growing up, becoming a man, learning the difference between good and evil. The stories connect with my life experience on a deeply visceral level. Even though the time period was different, the geography was different, and the personal choices were different.
I find it interesting — and potentially instructive — that very shortly after finishing my (second) reading of A Kind of Flying, on the same flight, I started a (second) reading of Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. It seems like my heart is drawn back into a process of remembering how I got to where I am. Maybe to better understand something happening in my own heart, entering a new phase of life and ministry? Maybe to better understand and guide my kids (and all the other young men and women with whom I interact) as they come of age? Or maybe something else entirely. I’m just trying to listen carefully, read carefully, and see what I can learn along the way.