In 2009, Kate Pullinger won a Governor General's Literary Award for her historical novel The Mistress of Nothing. Five years later (with a collection of short stories in between), Pullinger proves she can write just as adeptly about the contemporary world. Creating quality fiction out of the banalities of contemporary life – Facebook, Twitter, video games, reality television, YouTube, and Tumblr – is not easy, but Pullinger does so with seeming effortlessness. Landing Gear brilliantly conveys the extent to which contemporary technologies permeate our lives and shape our identities.
The novel, which grew out of an online “networked narrative” called Flight Paths (which Pullinger collaborated on with Chris Joseph), opens with its most dramatic image: a Pakistani man named Yacub “disembarks” mid-flight from a plane’s landing gear, where he has stowed away in hopes of making it to the U.S. after escaping from a labour camp in Dubai. Yacub falls from the sky straight onto the roof of Harriet’s parked car and, miraculously, survives. This powerful and surprising image is only the first example of collision as a running theme in the novel.
Spanning settings from Pakistan to England to Toronto, the book tells the interconnected stories of Yacub; Harriet, who works at a U.K. radio station; her husband, Michael, who finds himself trapped in North America when an erupting volcano shuts down air traffic over Europe; their teenage son, Jack; and Emily, whose father has died of a heart attack.
Landing Gear is a sprawling story about the frenetic quality of contemporary life. It addresses teen drug culture, middle-age ennui, the challenges of globalization, and the changing role of the media, exploring the intersection of modern technology and the modern family. When the volcano explodes in Iceland, Harriet, Jake, Michael, and Emily cannot decide if what transpires is “idyllic or apocalyptic.”
The novel’s great achievement is that it never feels sprawling. Nor does it feel overly ambitious. Rather, there is an unexpected lightness to the narration, a quality that can be attributed to Pullinger’s sharp and precise prose. The book is constructed in short chapters with strong narrative momentum and tension, a strategy to capture today’s distracted reader. A fitting follow-up to its award-winning predecessor, Landing Gear is a beautiful and profound story about finding love, peace, and meaning in a too-busy world.
Due to an error at the editorial stage, an earlier version of this review misidentified the collaborator of Flight Paths as Chris Jones. Quill & Quire regrets the error.