Fly yourselves

A review of Fly Me by Daniel Riley

This is my book of the summer. Last year I was talking up Emma Cline's The Girls and Charles Manson-style cults in California. Here I am one year later focused on another book about a young woman in California that has a similar vibe, rich language, intense plot and outstanding cover. 

Suzy Whitman is a recent Vassar graduate and has the smarts and talent to take the world by storm. But she's directionless, uncertain, and follows her older sister to Sela del Mar, California to live on the beach, surf, skateboard and try on a career as a stewardess. This leads her to some other, wilder pursuits, none of which seem out of place, considering what 1972 was all about.

It was a crazy year, man.

Here are a few of the events of 1972 that I was reminded of while reading Fly Me, not necessarily listed in chronological order:

  • The Rolling Stones perform with opener Stevie Wonder in Madison Square Garden
  • Green Bay Packers play the Dallas Cowboys at County Stadium in Milwaukee
  • 1972 Summer Olympics and Munich massacre
  • Jim Jones moves his religious cult to California
  • Nixon and Watergate
  • Vietnam War still raging
  • Bobby Fischer becomes the first American chess champion by defeating Boris Spassky
  • Plane crashes, including the Andes flight disaster of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571
  • Airline hijackings. Many, many hijackings.

What this book is really about, in the context of 1972 and all that outrageous year has to offer, is the struggle for a young woman to find her place in a changing workforce, amidst difficult family circumstances and a harsh, chaotic world. Big stuff. I applaud the author for the well-researched setting and for representing 23-year-old Suzy Whitman in an authentic way.   

The title "Fly Me" comes from a 1971 ad campaign for National Airlines with the tag line "I'm Cheryl. Fly me." I wasn't familiar with it until recently; it came up in Gloria Steinem's memoir My Life on the Road in a chapter about her work organizing and advocating for flight attendants. I was, and still am, appalled at the overt sexism. Thinking about it made me root for Suzy Whitman all the more.