In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. Doubleday Canada, out now.
[I received this book from Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review; this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]
I’m going to admit something: I don’t know much about Judy Blume. *flinches* I know I read her books as a kid, but I don’t remember anything about them. I haven’t read Summer Sisters (yet) either. I didn’t freak out when she came to Toronto. But I was still really curious about her new adult fiction novel In the Unlikely Event. This also means I came to the book with a different viewpoint than her big fan readers.
In the Unlikely Event fictionalizes a true history – in the 1950s, three planes crashed over Elizabeth, a small town outside Newark, New Jersey. Planes were still relatively new then, not as safe as they are now. It was purely coincidental, but extremely tragic. As Judy grew up in Elizabeth when this happened, this book was destined for her to write. She’s imagined many citizens who were affected by the crashes and how their lives changed after the impact.
The biggest reason why I was interested in The Unlikely Event is because of the psychological angle. I find reading mental processes as people fall apart and how trauma affects them to be fascinating (why I loved The Bell Jar!). I also was interested in how because it was a town-wide tragedy, people who were not even directly related to the crashes or victims were traumatized. I guess it’s a little like the whole watching a car crash thing, like being glued to the news when something awful happens, but I don’t really want to go farther into the blood and guts territory. In the Unlikely Event focused heavily on psychology of trauma, and I think Judy captured it quite vividly.
Judy quickly cycles through many citizen’s psyches throughout the book. At the beginning it’s overwhelming and hard to keep track of who is who, but as it progresses she sticks to a few main characters, especially Miri Ammerman, a 15-year-old who was thrown off the ground when the first plane fell, who then has nightmares, and has to focus her attention between her first love, her best friend who is withering away and her private single mother.
It’s hard to think about how people can live past trauma, how they can keep going, but In the Unlikely Event does it for you. How does a widower go on knowing their wife died in a plane crash? How does a family go on when one of their children couldn’t be saved from their burning building? How do parents understand why their daughter has developed an eating disorder? How does a journalist keep reporting gruesome details? In the Unlikely Event doesn’t try to make it look like anyone is stronger than anyone else, which I admired. People react differently, and providing all these characters allowed Judy to explore all of the options.
I was reading the book one day, sitting on a bench in a park. I heard a roar, and above me was a group of small planes, what I’m presuming as either planes practicing for the CNE air show or some sort of class. They blasted overhead, it felt so close. They were doing air tricks, not just flying from point A to point B. At one point, I saw one break off from the group and emit more exhaust, like it had made a mistake. Those split moments can determine everything. I was paralyzed for a moment, until I saw it regain composure. I am quite scared of flying, even though they say it’s more safe than driving. It’s the turbulence and the distance of a drop, the impact, that makes my stomach squeeze. And I’ve been thinking about how people die in accidents a lot lately. How unfair it is, that someone can die by a mistake. I sure don’t want to go that way.
In the Unlikely Event is a brave, loving and realistic story. It teleports your mind into the past and your heart into its characters.