The Last Flight of Poxl West/Daniel Torday: Reflections on a book I haven't finished because I haven't wanted it to end

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I had a good plan. My plan was this: read and reflect on Daniel Torday's much-acclaimed debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, in time for Daniel's birthday. When you can make a big day even better, why not?

The problem was—the problem is—that I'm enjoying the book too darned much. Sure, I could have stayed up a little later over the weekend reading and gotten a few more pages in. I could have kept reading even now, in this frigid morning dark, beneath the blanket in the family room. But I don't want this story to end. If I read more pages, and read them too fast, then this story will end.

Noble thoughts, right? Little good they do for Daniel (who, by the way, directs the Creative Writing program at Bryn Mawr College). Daniel's birthday has come and gone, and his book is due out soon.

So let me then crawl out of my self-indulgent shell, raise my head for a moment, and say, "Wow." Because what an adventure this book is—the story of a former Royal Air Force bomber who happens to be Jewish, who isn't even a Brit, who lives in America now, touting his bestselling, big persona memoir. His memoir is right there, in the accordion folds of this book, layered in against the adoring accounts of his "nephew" Elijah, who hasn't just been privy to the book's making; he is (wait for it) in the acknowledgments.

Elijah Goldstein, future professor, has seen his name in print.

(Damn, that's intoxicating.)

These, then, are the ingredients of Torday's book—Poxl's memoir, Elijah's recounting of the making and marketing of the memoir, and a couple of red herrings along the way, but we don't really care, not yet; we're just busy reading about Poxl's mother in a city north of Prague (who posed for Schiele, that outlaw artist, imagine how that messed with her head), Poxl's passive-seeming father, Poxl's flight to Rotterdam, Poxl's love indoctrinations with a prostitute, London during the blackouts, those planes....

Okay. That's where I've gotten—so far. I was going to read another chapter before I posted these words, but it's freezing out there, and I'm going to want this book to dive back into after I return from my upcoming trek to the city for a (dear) client project.

But wait. Before I go, I'm going to give you this: A few words from Poxl, who, as you will see, is an enchanting storyteller—the kind who strikes that right balance between not hurrying and not tarrying, the kind who knows when to quiet a scene and when to razzle it up, who also has a fine little knack for that universal philosophizing that memoirists (even those who may not be telling the truth—not judging here, just saying) get down pat. Poxl is walking through a park in London. It's the height of fear and damage:

Where my outings to Prague had been comprised of the joy of thousands of people forever rushing at me—I learned that to live life is to lay oneself down to a wave, to feel as best one could the direction the current was flowing and then allow one's body to go slack and have the wisdom not to fight it lest one drown—London at night during that anxious period of the war was tensile as the thin frozen sheet atop a moving river.

The Last Flight of Poxl West will be released in March by St. Martin's Press.

Update: I finished this novel. I Love This Novel. The World Will Love This Novel, Too.


Serena said...

Wow, those final words you share from the book! I have to read this!

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