Want author Lynn Steger Strong teases her next novel Flight for the first time
Last summer, Lynn Steger Strong enraptured readers with her brisk, blunt novel Want. The story of a mother, living in a highly desirable and highly overpriced Brooklyn neighborhood but struggling under the weight of student loans, medical bills, an estranged relationship with her parents, and the existential crises that come with trying to parent and excel in your career exposed the many (many) cracks in the systems we're supposed to rely on. Now, she turns her acerbic analysis onto the multi-narrator family novel in Flight, coming Fall 2022 from William Morrow's Custom House imprint. Strong spoke to EW to exclusively announce the book and tease what audiences can look forward to.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into Flights, can you sum up for us what your strongest memories are from the publication of Want?
LYNN STEGER STRONG: I felt really lucky, people were so kind and generous towards the book and that felt cool and exciting. I spent the month of the book's release out in Maine with barely any cell reception, so every once in a while I would get a connection and my phone would go off, which is a little bit what it felt like in general to have a book come out in quarantine.
What has been so interesting to see is how people come at it from different angles — they read it on their terms and let the book be what they want or needed it to be. It's about capitalism and the broken state of secondary education and health care, but also about friendship and motherhood; people reading it as an argument for democratic socialism is really high on my list of reactions.
Can you give us the elevator pitch for Flight?
My very short elevator pitch is that a matriarch dies and a little girl goes missing. My longer version is that a family is trapped in a house, trying to figure out how to love each other in the absence of the one individual who had always shown them how. And a smaller family is also trying to figure out how to love one another. And all of them have to come together and fearfully figure out how to take care of each other when a child disappears.
What is the inspiration for the title?
There is a character throughout the book who lives in the barn behind the house as everything is going on, and building an art installation of birds. But beyond that, there is a lot of "flying" — there's a gaggle of children throughout who make-believe flying unicorns, for example. You can insert the Jonathan Franzen joke here, but I've always been particularly stunned by the beauty of the way the birds move in unison, and how that translates to the intuitive nature of functioning as a unit.
How did the idea for this novel start to form?
It started after I finished Want and was at a residency where I teach and I had a transcendent experience of reading Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel, which is a biography of female painters. I started thinking about visual art and groups of women. And I knew that one of the things I wanted to explore after Want, which was kind of an angry book, was what is on the other side of this anger? When I write I basically take an idea, and the idea is like a ball, and you through it out really far. And through the process of writing, you see if you can get to that idea. Want was about individual shame and failure and success, and I think this book is more about a collective consciousness. There are multiple points of view.
A lot of the elements of Want were pulled from your own experience; where did you get the inspiration for the people and events in Flight?
It's all just me [laughs]. I think I'm always pulling from my life, and my obsession as a writer is the ways that we try and fail to love one another. And all the ways that our traumas haunt the way we try to care for other people. I think there are specific ideas in the book about being a parent and a woman, and how they are modeled for us and how we try to push against them — that's what I tried to give the main characters (who are all women).
I had this exercise I made myself do in writing the book, which is okay now you have to do a draft of the book and you're on Kate's side. Go. I wanted to be on everybody's side, but I also wanted the characters to be petty and small at times, in the way I think all humans are. That was also important to me in Want; the narrator was not always super likable, and I wanted these characters to not always be likable.
Looking forward to publication, is there anything that you hope will be different this time around?
What are we supposed to hope for [laughs]? I think Want, parts of its outlook were sort of bleak. And I wrote this book trying to convince myself that some of the feelings I was reaching for still have a place in this world. That those feelings don't have to be schmaltzy but can be real and alive.