Monthly Archives: June 2021

THE LAST FLIGHT

“. . .very few people actually stop to consider how difficult it is to truly vanish. The level of detail needed to eliminate even the tiniest trace. Because there’s always something. A small thread, a seed of truth, a mistake. It only takes a tiny pinprick of circumstance to unravel it all.”    (Prologue, The Last Flight)

It all begins in the present. In the JFK Airport Departure Area, two pensive women are waiting for flights to a place they do not want to go.  Women with secrets that could cost them their lives.

Claire Cook is terrified. She has crossed the Rubicon. Her marriage to Rory Cook, her charming, rich, and handsome husband, the heir to one of America’s political royalty, is a sham. Behind closed doors, she is a victim of physical and mental abuse. It has taken years of sly preparation, but today, she was to have arrived in Detroit for a charity event as Mrs. Rory Cook. After collecting her getaway package, sent in advance to the hotel in Detroit, she would have disappeared under an assumed name leading a new life.

At the last minute, her husband, without telling Claire, flies to the Detroit charity event himself. Claire is instructed by a staff member that she is to replace her husband at an event in Puerto Rico. Frantically she calls the Detroit hotel hoping to intercept her package before he arrives. A clerk tells her she has already handed the package to her husband. He knows. And he will make her pay for endangering his political ambitions with this scandal.

Eva Marie James has been in NYC visiting an old neighbor from California but she now must return to Berkley.  Eva, a former chemistry student at UC Berkley, leads a lonely and complex life. What began as a one-time choice to help a student by creating an illegal drug has led to a life in the underbelly of illegal drug distribution. It has been a lucrative life for her, but a deadly and dangerous endeavor, and now she wants out. Unless she can find a way to disappear, her only way out is feet first in a pine box.

In the throng of passengers heading to their departure gates, she overhears Claire Cook’s frantic call to a friend for help now that her husband knows she is leaving him. Eva sees a way out that could benefit Claire and herself. Carefully. Cautiously. Eve draws physically then mentally close to Claire. She spins a heart rendering yarn about a husband recently deceased from cancer. She can’t face walking back into her home and all those painful memories. She guides Claire to making a decision that could save both of them. “Do you think it’s possible for someone to disappear? Vanish without a trace?”

Claire takes the bait. They exchange everything; trading lives. Claire boards the plane to California becoming what she believes to be a distraught widow. Eva has what she needs most – a new identity. The seat on Vista Air, Flight 477 to San Juan. Puerto Rico, just a stepping stone to a new life.  Money not an issue. She established an untraceable offshore account years ago.

Six hours later, Claire’s flight arrives in California. She senses something big has happened.  A nearby TV monitor shows the wreckage of an airplane. The headline reads – Vista Air, Flight 477 has crashed into the ocean shortly after take-off. She is seized with the thought,  “I should have been on that flight but sent a young woman to her death in my place!” By exchanging identities with Eva, Claire has gone from becoming a missing wife to a world famous victim of a tragedy. Her face and her life story will be seen on televisions around the world.

Things from this point get very interesting. Claire digs into Eva’s purse for her house keys and it doesn’t take long after opening that front door to learn that she has been bamboozled. There was no sick husband. What was Eva running from?  Has she, now masquerading as Eva, stepped into a bigger minefield?

The suspense heightens as the story follows Claire in the present and her new life as Eva. Eva’s story begins in the past leading up to the identity exchange in the JFK airport. The novel masterfully keeps the unknown just out of reach. Tickle and tease the reader; think you have figured things out. Wrong. Somehow the two storylines complement each other; the pages turn faster and faster.

I am going admit that I read the book some time ago. When I started to reread the book to refresh my memory, I devoured it from start to finish again. There have been psychological thrillers that have scared me to death. This is not one. This thriller will have you gaining respect for each protagonist. How many of us have been trapped by circumstance? What would you do? Looking for a beach read this summer? Pick up a copy! The ending is very satisfying! No spoilers!

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NOMADLAND: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

In 2017, I was given the opportunity by W. W. Norton to read an advanced reader’s copy of Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. Before I had a chance to read the book, a sibling’s health failed requiring my immediate and later long term assistance. The book slipped into my too-be-read pile. With all the hype of the movie deal and Academy Award nomination, I remembered I had the book. Much to my surprise I found myself relating to many of the characters. The plights of the women covered in the book felt like déjà vu from my personal life when the rug was yanked out from under me years ago.

It was a hard book to read. It was a painful eye-opening experience. The houseless seeking refuge all around us hoping to be hidden in plain view. Look for that older RV that has been parked at the back of your Walmart parking lot for days. The campsite in the forest with a clothesline and a popup port-a-potty shelter that has been there for weeks. Everyone hoping to be seen as normal. All dreading that “three hard knocks” on the door from authorities ordering them to move on like a stray dog.

Author, Jessica Bruder

So how did Jessica Bruder become aware of the Nomadland subculture of “houseless nomads”? Purportedly it all began after reading a Mother Jones cover story that  featured an undercover reporter in an Amazon warehouse. An elderly man, working a seasonal job for Amazon, revealed that he lived in an RV full time,  “I can’t afford to retire and there’s a whole program [called Amazon Camper Force] for people like me.” 

After three years of immersive research, Jessica Bruder has exposed, in Nomadland, a growing number of “houseless” seniors 50+ to 70+ most unable able to pay mortgages or rent and still buy food and prescriptions. These are folks that bought into the American Dream. They believed if you got an education, worked hard, invested wisely, and purchased a home that build equity over the years you could count on cozy retirement years.

These are people in their “golden years” now struggling to stay independent and self-sufficient. They live in outdated RVs, SUVs or tents finding temporary work at low paying and physically demanding seasonal jobs. Extended families like the Walton’s no long exist. Times are gone where adult children could help their aging parents. It went the way of the rotary phone and milk delivery man. There children, too, are caught up with rising costs and stagnant incomes.

These gas-powered prairie wagons crisscross the country working the Christmas rush  doing 12-14 hours shifts at Amazon warehouses; hired as seasonal camp hosts at campgrounds dealing with rowdy campers and daily toilet clearing routines; recruited for backbreaking jobs on beet farms or blueberry harvests;  working as carnival staff collecting tickets and manning the tilt-a-wheel ride in the blistering heat.

You would think that reducing your life to the interior of your car or a 10 foot tear-drop trailer would make you dark and dismal to be around but that is far from the truth. It is a vibrant and caring sub-culture that finds joy and peace in the simpler life. They gather annually in Quartzsite, Arizona for a convention of sorts. Friendships are renewed, new comers to the life style are given guidance, vendors offer products useful to campers, and nationwide companies offering flowery descriptions of backbreaking work opportunities. Smart phones provide internet access to the “normal” world.  Youtube videos  and Facebook sites offer guidance on simplifying your life and some creative entrepreneurs have thriving online businesses working from the front seat of their vehicles.

And yes, some of the people have the means to live in luxury RVs.  They have chosen to live a downsized existence freed of “things” and traded in lawn mowers for lawn chairs beside a beautiful lake.

Nomadland has pulled the Band-Aid off this growing subculture growing within our aging population. Bruder has shown strong comradery and supportive help within the caravan family for each other. But burrowing down to the individual level, each harbors a dreadful fear of future. What will happen to me when I can no long work?  

No one at this time has an answer for them.

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