“Flight Patterns” by Karen White vividly explores the relationship between two sisters within a mystery backdrop. Readers try to unravel how an incident from 1943 had repercussions and influences on the present day, as well as how fine China and bees symbolize the different family dynamics. The author brilliantly has the bees and China becoming supporting characters that highlight the story and the main protagonists.
White noted that she is “obsessed with fine China. I got that from my mom who is a China fanatic. In the Deep South you pick your patterns around the age of thirteen. Because we lived in England for seven years I picked mine there. I even have separate China for Christmas. Regarding the bee aspect, I saw a bee motif someplace. That brought back memories of the book, ‘The Secret Life Of Bees.’ After Googling I became completely fascinated with bees. If I had the time and inclination I would have beehives in my backyard. They are amazing creatures. Now, I think I would rather be stung by a bee than kill one.”
The bee quotes at the beginning of each chapter set the stage for what the chapter is about, but it also shows how the insects have a very structured and predictable world, the antithesis of the characters that are emotionally crippled. Each thought they were living in their own private hell, where as they were all interconnected. Besides stating the bees’ perspective White also alternates each chapter into three different narratives, one for each sister and one for their mother, Birdie.
The themes involve forgiveness and the importance of family, specifically siblings. Birdie was portrayed as someone who checked out mentally, conjuring up feelings for those who have had a parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s. White hit a home run as she showed the hope of the children as they wondered if the person they once knew, deep inside somewhere, was still alive mentally. Even though the sisters felt estranged they still acted as a team where their mother was concerned.
A very powerful quote relates to grief, “All she could do is let me know I wasn’t alone.” This conjures up how certain religions react to a loved one dying. In the Jewish religion people sit “Shiva,” while in the Catholic religion they have a wake. The attitudes are reflected in the quote where people will sit around and remember someone who has died, together able to share memories.
The symbolism in the book is multi-faceted. One of the siblings, Georgia, spends her life finding artifacts of fine China and vintage clothing, sifting through other people’s past, while trying to forget her own. She refuses to use technology because she wants a simpler life where the hurtful memories can be forgotten. She had left her roots leaving behind family, history, and her childhood home.
Now, ten years later, Georgia returns home searching for a piece of China that is needed to match a client’s set. Seeing all her family she realizes something has been missing. The impenetrable and insurmountable hurt has paralyzed her feelings, along with her stubbornness to make the first move in healing the rift with her sister, Maisy. She needs to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep.
Always wishing for a sister White made it happen in this novel, “The wonderful thing about writing is I was able to create my own sisters in this fantasy world where life turns out the way you want it to be. I hope when people read about these characters they find ways to repair family relationships. We are very good at building walls around the heart.”
Known as “The Queen of Southern Fiction,” White explained that she identifies with the South. “I love Southern towns, families, and the oddities. The Florida Gulf Coast, which is the setting for this novel, reminds me of happy childhood memories, especially since my paternal grandparents lived there.”
She will continue to write about the South in her next book projects. In September her first two books will be republished in a double volume titled “Spinning The Moon” set during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. In January the fifth book of the Charleston series, “Guests on South Battery,” is a mystery involving an old house, and next June she will have a book that is set in Georgia based on friendship.
Her current book, “Flight Patterns,” has an intense and complex story. Readers will be drawn into the plot from the first page. They will take the journey with the characters, trying to unravel the mystery of the family’s secrets and relationships that have been affected by the past.