In-Flight Entertainment: Stories
“Some might find consolation by identifying with the characters in In-Flight Entertainment just as they are. Still others might ask: Is the world made up only of energy grubbing, insensitive, narcissists? Is there no tenderness no compassion? Does no one ever experience an epiphany? If you long for a different kind of closure, there is still much to be gained by focusing on the quality of Ms. Simpson’s writing.”
Devoted readers of Helen Simpson’s award-winning work will not be disappointed with her latest collection of short stories. She has made her mark in short story writing by clearly describing humanity’s dark side, using contemporary life as a platform. This author is described as “writing close to the bone.” Agreed.
But for first-time readers, the work should contain a warning label, cautioning them to read the stories in small doses. The uninitiated need to be prepared for a sinister look at contemporary life.
The themes that predominate in this collection are global warming (One of the final offerings is a brutal glimpse of life after global warming’s “big flood.”); secrets—i.e. hiding infidelity; dying—both alone and in-flight, and other rather macabre premises. The latter accounts for the title of the collection. The title might also symbolize our own respective flights through life.
Subject matter aside, Ms. Simpson is masterful at plying her craft as a writer. A second reading will enable many readers to go beyond the premise of the story and focus on how deeply she gets into the psyche of the protagonist.
She deftly describes the images of a woman experiencing a cerebral aneurism and understanding the inevitable outcome.
“Now when she woke up in the morning, the old unconscious happiness lasted only a few seconds before she remembered and thought, I wish this hadn’t happened. But it had. . .”
Ms. Simpson’s use of language will raise goosebumps (continuing the quote mentioned above):
“. . . You’d wake just as it was getting light and see death coming up the river, the men with axes poised to leap out of their longboats and set fire to your home and disembowel you.”
In another story, the puzzled reaction of an arrogant man climbing the corporate ladder reveals his character after he has given his live-in girlfriend three months’ notice—(there will be no room for her on this next “rung”):
“Had she forgotten all the good times? He wished he’d remembered to ask her that. He picked up the photograph and stared at her laughing face. It was a shock to think of its most recent expression, ashen and venomous. Quite unlike her. She was being incredibly—totally—unreasonable.”
Helen Simpson definitely has literary staying power. She alarms and terrifies, leaving the reader with thoughts that haunt and linger. Imagine yourself being in a room full of rats so driven by hunger that they fail to look up when you enter. Unforgettable imagery.
Some might find consolation by identifying with the characters in In-Flight Entertainment just as they are. Still others might ask: Is the world made up only of energy grubbing, insensitive, narcissists? Is there no tenderness no compassion? Does no one ever experience an epiphany? If you long for a different kind of closure, there is still much to be gained by focusing on the quality of Ms. Simpson’s writing.