Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event is about three plane crashes in eight weeks and the effect of such trauma on the citizens of the small town of Elizabeth where the novel (and ‘real’ historical experience) is set.
I say it’s about the effect of the trauma on the citizens, and I do think it’s meant to be about that, but it mostly reads like a novel that wants to describe three plane crashes and then looks for characters to justify this plot. The interwoven, multivocal narrative follows different folks from about the town – principally Miri, an 11-year old girl and her family – and attempts to get readers to care about how these characters respond and deal with the aftermath of each and compounding crashes.
I say attempts because maybe you’ll read it and find these attempts successful. I read it and didn’t care much about Miri or her family or whether she was upset or not about nearly being crushed by a plane falling from the sky. I am not a callous person. (I repeat: I am not a callous person. I am not a callous person…) but I really didn’t care. While the plane crashes are, themselves, tense and well-drawn and full of who-will-die-and-where-will-it-land drama, the scenes surrounding them don’t just seem (perhaps appropriately) dull in comparison, but as though there wasn’t thought to how conflict must continue to propel action, even when that plot is not a plane exploding.
Some of the themes that might give these characters and their world depth – the cost and consequence of secrets, the mirage/dissolution of the nuclear family – are either too pat “everyone has secrets,” or ungrounded from specific scenes so that they read as morality moments, rather than discerned by the reader and emerging from the narrative.
So yep. You probably love Judy Blume because of Freckle Juice (okay, okay, I may or may not have tried all the freckle juice suggestions in the short novel in an effort to cleanse my face of the cursed spots) or Blubber or Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. And you should keep loving Judy Blume. But you should also skip reading In the Unlikely Event. It’s just… not that good.