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Flyover Lives: A Memoir Hardcover – January 16, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The author of shrewd and scintillating novels about Americans abroad, Johnson (L’Affaire, 2003; Lulu in Marrakech, 2008) grew up in Moline, Illinois, “A pleasant place, surrounded by cornfields, I had always longed to get out of.” And so she did, as she crisply and wittily recounts in this stealthily far-reaching family history. Johnson’s personal story gains resonance in harmony with a remarkable set of memoirs written by her ­great-­great-great grandmother, Anne, born in 1779, and Anne’s daughter, Catharine, a teacher who, after a tortuous nine-year engagement, married a doctor only to endure his depression and long absences and the deaths of all but one of her nine children. Johnson perceives that her skilled and strong foremothers lived daunting yet satisfyingly “useful lives.” Adeptly structured, incisive, funny, and charming, Johnson’s look back delves into deep questions of history and inheritance, from the impact of America’s many wars on the Midwest to the transforming changes in modern women’s lives to her own adventures as a novelist and screenwriter raising a large, blended family, living overseas, and keenly observing cultural differences, personal quirks, and timeless commonalities. --Donna Seaman

Review

Praise for Flyover Lives by Diane Johnson:

“[A] vivid . . . quest for roots. Johnson strikes an elegiac note in her cullings of family and national history . . . splendid.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Smart and engaging . . . [A] singularly agreeable and appealing book.”
The Washington Post
 
“Smart . . . perceptive . . . Flyover Lives is a memoir of the Midwest sure to charm readers . . . Johnson vividly reminds us that the country we’re all from is the unfamiliar one called the past.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“Delightful . . . compelling and entertaining. . . . Johnson has a sharp eye for detail, and . . . her storytelling brings [the] past vividly to life.”
Chicago Tribune
 
“Solid Midwestern values seasoned by charm, affection, and lovely writing provide a welcome detour off the tabloid [memoir] path. . . . [It’s an] absolute pleasure [to be] in the company of a skilled writer who so eloquently examines the people and geography that shaped her.”
—Boston Globe
 
“Like her heroines, Johnson appears to have a boundless curiosity about the world and its inhabitants . . . What gives her memoir its charm and makes it so consistently beguiling is . . . the tone in which she relates her recollections, reflections, and discoveries. Fans of her novels will recognize the cheerful, wry bemusement, the rare combination of optimism and clear-sightedness, the humor and the intelligence we have come to expect from her fictional first-person narrators, and from the knowing voice that moves seamlessly from the consciousness of one character to another.”
—Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books

“Johnson seeks to understand how [her family] history has shaped her character, and when she describes her time as a screenwriter and a young mother with four children in nineteen-sixties England, her cheerful pragmatism and unsparing work ethic do seem tied to the can-do spirit of her ancestors.”
The New Yorker

“Charming.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Engaging and filled with feeling for an America that is gone forever.”
Christian Science Monitor
 
“Diane Johnson’s wry new memoir is an absorbing exploration of the people and places that have shaped her. . . . By investigating the lives of her ancestors, Johnson finds that there are no ‘flyover’ lives, and that every person has a story worth telling.”
BookPage

“Johnson is a felicitous writer, cheerfully alert to irony and absurdity. The unfailing deftness of the prose makes this book a pleasure.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Adeptly structured, incisive, funny, and charming, Johnson’s look back delves into deep questions of history and inheritance. . . . Keenly observed.”
Booklist

“Award-winning novelist and essayist Diane Johnson explores her Midwestern roots and family history in this charming and candid memoir. . . . An enjoyable peek into how America shaped one celebrated author’s consciousness.”
—Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (January 16, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670016403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670016402
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By kbgressitt on January 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
A life’s story need not be heartrending to be interesting, to be memoir-worthy, and bestselling novelist Diane Johnson’s new Flyover Lives is one of those memoirs that proves it.

Flyover Lives is named for the “flyover states,” the seemingly undramatic U.S. Midwest that Johnson’s ancestors helped settle, states that today are not destinations, but distant landscapes we disregard at 30,000 feet. Johnson’s book, though, is a detour that allows us to land and visit with her and generations past, read from their journals, learn of their pioneering successes and failures, their loves and losses. Even her childhood home of then small town Moline, Illinois becomes a character who warrants a front porch visit, a little fat chewing, simply because people were born and grew up and died there. They went to the movies in Moline, in 1945, and saw newsreel war images that stayed with them, making them grateful that they didn’t know what real suffering is. They were embarrassed by their father’s quirky underwear there, and learned to love their aunts and uncles. They left there to go to college, find themselves, marry and divorce, and move halfway across the country, then partway around the world, and learn that they can’t ever really leave.

Examined thoughtfully, these lives are interesting, Johnson’s and her family’s, and she reveals them with a respectful and often humorous narrative that makes them seem familiar.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Steven C. Hull on February 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
At 80, Diane Johnson has a lifetime of accomplishments as a writer: numerous novels, a finalist in the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, essays, a dozen screenplays and now an unusual memoir to say the least. Raised in Moline, after graduating from Stephens College in Missouri, she received an internship at Mademoiselle in New York and from there spent her life in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Paris.

Diane captured the isolated comfort of growing up in small city Midwest, the routine, the family-centricity, the somewhat passivity, the excellent education, and to some extent the stress of small-town economic dependency, a subtle favoritism that falls just shy of economic coercion.

But that’s the second half of the book. In the first half, she traces her ancestry from a French soldier who landed in pre-revolutionary Connecticut. She focuses the story on his descendent, Catharine Anne, who became a school teacher in small-town Vermont, marries and moves to Illinois in the 1820’s. Catharine kept journals then wrote a memoir in her 70’s, which every modern writer yearns for in order to write an historical, emotional narrative. Catharine’s story weaves the trauma of a New England small-town woman who followed her husband into the frontier and chronicles the despair that finally caused her to question her marriage and the control she had over her life, both with man and God. The death of her first three children, aged 5, 3, and 1 within a two-week period from Scarlet Fever, will tear out your soul trying to understand the purpose of life.

Diane Johnson follows parallel themes in the two halves of the book: a woman’s desire to pursue her dreams, to bear a family, to determine her life and support her husband’s journey.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Mooney on May 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Starts out very interesting.Then it loses it's focus on flyover states and becomes a story of Diane Johnson's success.
It is like 2 books but I wanted more info about life in the fly over states.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Quilter55 on March 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautiful memoir with Johnson's usual insight into the heart of humans. She weaves the history of her pioneer ancestors deftly into her memories of growing up in the MIdwest. Her writing style is entertaining and intelligent. Her anecdotes, research, and musings on her ancestors make this book different from the usual memoir. I feel like the section on her screen writing career did not quite fit into the groove of the rest of the book, but it's her memoir, after all. I plan on searching out the rest of Johnson's books that I have not read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary D Myers on April 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is not very memorable . I feel it was in parts that didn't connect very well to me. The best part were the descriptions of the 1950s in Moline.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary Strandlund on March 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Enjoyed reading the book. Brought back a lot of memories. I was from the author's hometown; I knew her parents. The author has a great grip on word useage. I've recommended the book to others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tigerbob60 on February 4, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a quirky unsatisfying "memoir". I purchased this book because I thought it was about the lives of people who live in the "flyover" middle of country which is often dismissed by the "bi-coastals" who commute between New York and California. Although Diane Johnson does talk about growing up in Moline, Illinois, she left there at 17 for Stephens College in Missouri and never returned. After a brief time as an intern at a fashion magazine, she is Los Angeles and married to a doctor named John--no full name or background. She has 4 children in 5 years. About 10 years she divorces him and falls in love with another no name doctor with three children. He divorces his wife and marries Diane to form a 7 child blended family. With the exception of long section chasing her family roots back to Lower Canada in 1701, there is little insight about lives in the "flyover" Midwest. The rest of book reflects the lives of people who flyover the states as they split their time between Paris and San Francisco.
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