Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Flight of the Blackbird by Faye McDonald Smith

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction (Women's Fiction)
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Version: Hardcover (ISBN: 9780684829715)
Publication Date: November 1996
Publisher: Scribner Book Company
Source: Personal Purchase

Synopsis (GoodReads):
In her remarkable debut novel, Faye McDonald Smith gives us a portrait of American family life in the nineties that is at once startlingly realistic and superbly entertaining. In it we meet the Burkes, an upwardly mobile, attractive, near-perfect family made up of Mel, an accomplished Atlanta executive who is beloved by her friends and family; her husband Builder, a hard working entrepreneur who is also a loving husband and a wonderful father; and their twelve-year-old daughter, Sasha, an only child who is an excellent student, popular and happy. All appears well in this African-American household, whose inhabitants have pretty much achieved the American dream. But one day Mel walks into her boss's office at the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and by the time she walks out again everything has changed; she is told that the office is being downsized and that her position will be eliminated. This event triggers a downward spiral in the life of the Burke family and it soon seems that the foundation upon which their American dream has been built is not very solid. Mel and Builder begin to question everything about their heretofore seemingly idyllic lives and it is on this journey that we accompany them.



Flight of the Blackbird was published in 1996 but the topic was relevant to financial instability that the world is experiencing today and that was the thing that intrigued me the most about this novel.  It's about a family's struggle with financial hardship and how it takes a toll on the relationships they have in their social/economic circle and also the toll it takes on the family as a whole.

One of the things that I like most about Flight of the Blackbird was the plot.  It was interesting to see how the downturn of the Burkes finances accelerate the already deteriorating relationship between all the family members.  Once Mel loses her job, and she finds out that her husband's Builder has basically been robbing Peter to pay Paul for months, and then things get interesting.  It was completely believable and what I enjoyed watching it happen (that sounds bad).

On the other hand, when I finished the reading Flight of the Blackbird, I got the feeling that McDonald Smith took the easy way out.  McDonald Smith brought up some heavy issues in this book.  Issues that would have made for a great emotionally touching read.  But in the end it seemed that she was not prepared to handle these issues and provide solid solutions.  So, she just avoided them or took the easy why out.

(Warning Spoiler Alert)

For example:

Mel's mother sent her to a mental facility after the death of her father.  It tainted their relationship forever.  Because of her action, Mel and her mother had not spoken in years.  And the fact that her mother had sent her away instead of helping her deal with her father's death left Mel to  believe that her mother favored her brother.  There is a scene in the book where Mel and her mother have this confrontation on this issue.  About how her father died and how it affected Mel.  It was a chance for mother and daughter to finally connect.  But basically, it fell flat.  While Mel's mother told her that she loved both of them equally it did not ring true.  When the moment was over, it was over.  Like nothing had happened.


Another place where Flight of the Blackbird, failed to meet my expectations was the characters.

The main character Mel was a bit confusing.  Her family seemed to think of her as a unyielding bitch, who bulldozed over the wish of others and the only way to stop her was to gang up on her and make her feel ashamed.  In reality (at least to me) Mel was a push over.  She allowed her family to manipulate her in everything.  Even when it came down to her daughter, she allowed herself to be manipulated. She never stood up for herself, even when her husband committed a crime (that I felt was unforgivable), she allowed herself to be railroaded into going back home and trying to make it work.

On the other hand, there was Builder.  Builder was a selfish, whinny baby at the start of the book.  He allowed the mismanagement of his building to threaten the happiness and safety of his family.  While in the end I felt indifferent about his character.  He did grow and learn from the error of his ways.  He tried to make himself a better person.

I just wish that both Mel and Builder's characters were equally balanced out and both of them had learned the lessons that they needed to grow.


Faye McDonald Smith's writing showed promise.  My research (Goodreads and basic Google Search) uncovered that Flight of the Blackbird was her first and only novel ever published.  While I didn't find her writing spectacular, I did enjoy it enough to be engaged in the novel and did not encounter any serious issues.

Explanation of Rating:
While the premise of Flight of the Blackbird was interesting the characters, plot issues, and average writing weren't enough to carry the novel to it's full potential.  It was rather, Meh.

Overall Recommendation:

I don't know if I would recommend this book.  It was just okay and forgettable.

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