Did you know that in the early 1950s, three planes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey, within a few weeks of one another?
I didn’t either, until I started reading Judy Blume’s latest novel for adults In the Unlikely Event (2015). As I read about the first tragedy, I realized how hard it would be on the young protagonist, Miri Ammerman, to have witnessed it. As I read about the second plane crash, I thought, “No way!” I had assumed the novel was completely fictional, but the second crash seemed too fantastic for an author to make up.
So I went to my trusty friends Google and Wikipedia. I found out that the plane crashes had really occurred, and that a third plane was still to come.
Amid these tragedies, Blume traces the lives of many young people, documenting their romances, their work, their school days, their parents’ situations, and their connections with each other. It is a fascinating tale, one with almost too many characters to keep track of, but as I kept reading, I learned to keep them straight.
The novel beings with Miri as an adult, returning to the site of the tragedies, which we don’t yet know about. Then it goes back in time, and we learn about Miri’s young life, her family, her friends, and others in the town. After we become acquainted with all that happened to them during this difficult time in “plane crash city,” the novel ends with Miri’s adult visit to a reunion to remember the crashes and the victims of many years ago. Once that situation occurs, the many characters make sense, as in order for Miri’s return to New Jersey and her confrontation of the past to make sense, we must also know about the pasts of the others who are present. Overall, I thought the novel was well done and skillfully connected the experiences of the many people.
I do have one criticism: Blume’s writing isn’t anything to sniff at. She’s still Judy Blume, author of Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret and Superfudge, books I loved as a kid. Her writing is accessible and entertaining, but she is no Donna Tartt. That said, I think it is okay. I still enjoyed the book. I still want to read more Blume. I still learned something from what I read. Not everybody has to be a literary master. Sometimes, the best authors tell really good stories simply.