Fling! by Lily Iona Mackenzie
October 21, 2015
When I first agreed to review Fling! I was somewhat skeptical. All I knew about Lily Iona Mackenzie’s novel came from the title and a brief summary and, based on that, I expected a vaguely smutty beach read. I have never been a particular fan of the romance genre and the idea of a ninety year old woman even being interested in sex, let along looking for a fling in Mexico as the premise of Fling! goes, struck my cynical twenty-three year old self as improbable.
When I received my copy, however, I began to consider the various manifestations and definitions of the word “fling” and to suspect that the novel was about much more than some fleeting May-December romance. In her preface, Mackenzie offers the following definitions for her title:
1. a brief period of indulging one’s impulses
2. a usually brief attempt or effort
3. a brief sexual or romantic relationship
4. a Scottish Highland dance
5. a novel by Lily Iona Mackenzie
I was sold before I even turned the first page. No more than twenty pages in, I struggled to put it down, drawn in by the brief interlacing point of view chapters that leap chronologically and geographically between Scotland, Canada, and Mexico. To say that I was pleasantly surprised by Mackenzie’s charmingly offbeat novel would be an inexcusable understatement. Captivated by the surreal plot, eccentric yet relatable characters, and simple but vivid language, I quickly confirmed my suspicion that Fling! was about far than just a fling (which, in the age of Tinder, has taken on something of an unsavory connotation). With all the lighthearted fun of a fling, this novel also explores the importance of restoring fractured familial relationships, coming to terms with mortality and transience, and maintaining a certain joie de vivre no matter what your age or circumstances.
All of this takes place in the exuberant heart of Mexico, where reality and magic, the dead and the living commingle to fantastic effect. The stars of the story are ninety year old Bubbles, who amazes everyone with her vivacity and apparently limitless zest for life, and her middle aged hippie daughter Feather, who feels a little overshadowed by Bubbles and struggles with lingering resentment toward her mother from adolescence. When Bubbles receives news that her mother’s ashes have been found in Mexico City after being lost for seventy years, she convinces Feather—who was planning to take a solo art sabbatical in Mexico—to bring her along and make a stop in Mexico City to retrieve the ashes. Once in Mexico City, the two women deviate considerably from both their itinerary and normal way of being. The story takes a turn for the magical as Heather, Bubble’s mother, comes to life—like instant milk—after Bubbles adds water to her ashes. Heather’s long deceased parents—Anne and Malcolm, Bubble’s grandparents and Feather’s great-grandparents—appear shortly after, and the Scottish brood, reunited in Mexico, stays for the trip of their life/afterlife.
The narrative reaches the first of several phantasmagoric climaxes when a local tribe mistakes Bubbles for fertility god Eineeuq and kidnaps her a few days of festivity and worship. Bubbles, thrilled, soaks in the adoration and celebration she has always lived and yearned for with signature gusto. It’s a definite high point in the narrative but the story is far from over. Heather, cautious and somewhat repressed and resentful, experiences a personal renaissance through a fling with a sexy, soulful shaman. Through serendipitous human connection, the rejuvenating power of sex, and just a touch of magic, Heather sheds old neuroses and embraces a more joyful view of herself, the world, and her lovable but flawed mother. I’ll save some of the surprises Mackenzie still has in store for you but rest assured that the rest of the narrative, just as life-affirming and magical—without being saccharine—as the preceding pages, is a fitting denouement to the wild ride she has taken us on thus far.
The only lingering critique I have of Fling! is perhaps its title and the transience it so strongly implies. While the novel is full of rollicking flings and short bursts of mini-climaxes, the healing effects of Bubbles’ and Feather’s experiences are clearly long-lasting. Indeed, the novel seems to resolve (or come close to resolving) some of the most age-old tensions between eternity and transience, life and death. While the experience of reading Fling! for the first time was a fleeting one (as all our experiences are), its lessons and magic have stayed with me and will continue to do so as with all of our more meaningful flings.
From the start, MacKenzie creates worlds within worlds as her characters float back and forth in time, experiencing moments both lived and imagined. Filled with dreams, hopes, drama, the mundane and the mystical, each character travels through space (geographically from Scotland to Canada to Mexico) and time (past, present and future). In the same breath, then in skipped breaths, MacKenzie flings us in and out of the overflowing lives of three generations of women.
After celebrating her 90th birthday, “Bubbles” is determined to collect her deceased mother’s ashes in Mexico. She believes that having the ashes will allow her to feel closer to the mother who had abandoned her. Determined to see if such a journey will allow her to release “the memories buried under resentments she’s amassed over the years,” Bubble’s daughter, Feather, agrees to accompany her mother. Understanding now that “one person’s mess can be rooted in another generation,” Feather begins the journey wanting to forgive her mother and to find respect for all the women in her family who followed their dreams even as they left poverty and children behind.
Weaving stories of love and lust between other tales of broken marriages, loneliness, and longings, MacKenzie succeeds in filling our appetite for finding meaning and placing closure on the pains of the past, while living uninhibited adventures in the present.
In the final act of Thornton Wilder’s “OUR TOWN,” when the dead who inhabit the town’s cemetery take front and center stage, the main character, Emily, ultimately returns to the cemetery saying of the living: “They don’t understand.” So, too, in Fling!, we find not only the ashes of a grandmother long since dead, but a woman who magically comes to life. The fine line between memories, life, death, and an eternal search for feeling connected to family, to what’s real, and to what’s larger than life, is skillfully navigated by MacKenzie, who respects and helps us to understand each of her quirky—sometimes introspective, sometimes wise—but always marvelously fascinating and entertaining characters.
~ Linda Appleman Shapiro at Amazon.com
Summer may be over, but there’s still time for a fling, by which I mean the novel Fling! by Lily Iona MacKenzie. It’s not too late for some good beach reading, and even if you won’t have a chance to travel, this book will take you from Scotland to Canada to Mexico in the company of a delightful trio of women—Feather, a middle-aged ex-hippie, her irrepressible 90-year-old mother, Bubbles, and her grandmother, Heather, long dead but magically alive again in Mexico, along with her own parents, Annie and Malcolm.
Both Feather and Bubbles have long since changed their names from Heather, who came to Canada with Bubbles to join her husband, then took off for Mexico with a lover. This desertion sets a pattern: Bubbles will leave Feather as her mother left her, continuing a generational rift. But then a letter arrives from the dead letter office in Mexico City, announcing that Heather’s ashes must be picked up. Of course, Bubbles and Feather knew of Heather’s death from cancer in her 50s, but the existence of her ashes is new information, and Bubbles insists they must go to Mexico to retrieve her mother.
Thus begins the journey to end all journeys, filled with amazing adventures and hilarious characters, as these two women from cold climates travel south to the land of sun, where the dead come to life to settle past grievances. Both Feather and Bubbles come to understand each other and the pattern of desertion that has affected their lives, and find love and rejuvenation in Mexico. Maybe they’ll stay down there; maybe they’ll bring their new insights back to the cold plains of Midwestern Canada. But whatever happens, they won’t be the same women who set out to reclaim their mother’s—and grandmother’s—ashes.
~ Susan St. Aubin at Amazon.com
Fling takes the reader on a grand adventure starting in lovely Scotland, pushing us into a new hoped for opportunity in Canada, and finally taking us on the trip of a lifetime in Mexico.
3 different places, with different attitudes that force mother and daughter to look within themselves to adjust. The relationship between mother and daughter reminds me of a lot of relationships, there is a delicate, definite, and deep love; however they are two different women and do not see eye to eye. The way they relate to each other is absolutely hilarious and heartwarming. Mom, Bubbles, is flighty, fantastical, and a bit irresponsible; which is a distinct contrast to practical, employed, and responsible daughter Feather. At times while reading I forgot that we are talking about a 60-year-old and a 90-year-old; however they learn through their travels to change a lifetime of interactions with each other and learn to relate in a new healthier way.
If there is one criticism of this story, it would be regarding the flashbacks. While I normally enjoy flashbacks, the jumps in the book gave me whiplash. I got an idea of where she wanted to go in the story, but it often took me a page or two to really start following the storyline again. This made it a more difficult read. Had she spent more than a chapter in each “time”, I feel that it would have been easier to follow along with and would really have allowed me to go deeper and really lose myself in this otherwise wonderful story!
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a more “realistic” fantastical book with a lovely message.
~ Rebecca Fricke at Amazon.com
This is a very readable, very enjoyable novel about a mother and daughter’s journey to understand each other. The book spans a lot of geography and history, although the history is alive at the time of the action. One of the delights of the book is the vision of how our family history shapes who we are and the ways in which our struggles are intertwined with those of our ancestors. In addition, the book links up the Isle of Skye in Scotland in the early 1900s, with Calgary in Canada in the middle part of the 20th century along with modern day Mexico. The archetypes common to all three cultures are well observed. But first and foremost, this novel is very humorous, and a real page-turner. Anybody with a hippie soul will enjoy the ways in which the two main characters get lost in Mexico before finding themselves and each other.
~ Douglas G MacKenzie at Amazon.co.uk
Youtube video of my launch of Fling! at Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA.