“Leaning humility is never fun, and...the lessons have been coming hot and heavy. There’s only one way to handle this embarrassingly correct assessment of my situation. I lie.” Mattie Wallace is a liar. She’s also smart, irreverent, strong-willed and hilarious. In her first novel, The Art of Crash Landing, East Texas author Melissa DeCarlo has created a compulsively likable mess of a protagonist who will keep readers laughing and cringing — even as they begin really rooting for her.
At the start of the novel, Mattie is flat-broke, pregnant and alone, and she pretty much blames her deceased alcoholic mother, Genie, for her lack of direction in life. Then she learns that her mother’s mother has died and she might have some sort of inheritance. With nothing to lose, she hops in her old Malibu and heads from Florida to the tiny town of Gandy, Okla., where things get complicated.
She learns that Genie had a nice home, seemed happy and had a music scholarship she never pursued. No one seems to know why she suddenly left town, never to be heard from again.
Mattie begins unraveling mysteries about her mom’s history. As she finds dark secrets that go back to her grandmother, she also befriends a variety of interesting characters with their own troubled back stories, including a handsome and lonely priest, an angry goth girl, a crabby librarian and a lawyer who lost his legs in a car crash. A wiser Mattie eventually sees her own past and possible future in a new light.
While the 416-page narrative could have a used some tightening and the ending seems a little unsatisfying after a climax that brings surprising, poignant and page-turning revelations, the novel is a strong debut and a thoroughly entertaining read.
— Catherine Mallette
The Art of Crash Landing
by Melissa DeCarlo
Meet the author: DeCarlo will discuss and sign her book at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Dallas Half Price Books, 5803 E. Northwest Highway, 214-379-8000.