A friend loaned me her copy of Jennifer Brice’s memoir Unlearning to Fly, published in 2007 by the University of Nebraska Press. My friend couldn’t get past the Preface, for reasons I’ll explain. I pushed on through, and I’m glad I did.

There’s no shortage of Alaskan memoirs. It’s hard to find an Alaskan who doesn’t consider her life unique and memoir-worthy, and there’s a fair abundance of those who have the tenacity to write their stories and get them published, come hell or highwater, which is not so tough these days, thanks to print-on-demand and vanity presses abounding.

The University of Nebraska Press is far from a vanity press. They did well to publish Brice’s book. In it, she speaks with grace and beauty of family, of risk-taking, of searching for one’s place in the world. Flying is both a reality and a metaphor in the book, one that’s happily not overdone.

I was privileged to work with Jennifer’s mother, Carol, one of many Alaskan women with a remarkable mix of grit, fortitude, and refinement who did it all and then just a little bit more. So I may have lacked some objectivity in the early parts of the book – I loved learning more about Carol’s background and how she raised her family.

Unlearning to Fly is about what it means to leave and come home again. It’s about the forces of place that follow no matter where you go. It’s about facing life dead on, about battling crosswinds, about forgiving and unforgiveness.

In my favorite chapter, “Loving Lloyd,” Brice writes with brutal honesty about her adopted brother, a victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Among multiple problems, Lloyd, known to his adoptive family as Ben, gashes his wrists. “A few years ago,” Brice writes, “someone in my family – I won’t say who – said she wished he’d go ahead and cut a little deeper, like he really meant it. Someday he probably will.”

Like life, Brice’s chapters loop around one another, and time does double takes. Pesky concrete-sequentialism gives way to poignant meaning. In “The Metaphysics of Being Stuck,” Brice asks how people really die in plane crashes. “Their hearts explode,” explains a fellow pilot. That’s not unlike what happens with Lloyd.

Which returns me to the problem with the preface. Alaskan are sticklers for details, especially when it comes to the place they hold dear. As a pilot, Brice knows that little things matter, that the whole is in all ways the sum of the parts. But she opens her book in April 1964, with an account of the great Alaskan Earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake – all well and good, except that the earthquake happened in March. This kind of faux pas makes Alaskans renounce books in their entirity. Usually their books by non-Alaskans who just can’t get it right. I’ve done it myself – put done an acclaimed book by a renowned children’s authors because it talked about a Native hunter selling ptarmigan to the meat department of a grocery store to earn some extra cash.

But Brice’s book is too good to set aside. Forgive the error, even though it’s posted front and center. Pilot error is the cause of most crashes. But as any good pilot will tell you, a few errors slip past the best of them.

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