Narrated by Kathleen McInerney
I had seen the Judy Blume interviews on TV and knew that this was a book set in the early 1950s, when Blume was a teenager in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when three airplanes crashed in her town within 58 days. But I wasn’t thinking about that on my five hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco, until the first plane crash (in the book!) As my oh-so-smooth Virgin America flight (thanks, guys!) was an hour or so in, I decided maybe listening to this book wasn’t the best idea I ever had. I set it aside and didn’t finish it until I got home.
Right up front I have to say that I didn’t love this narrator, mostly because of her pronunciation, from the main character, Miri Ammerman, who I heard as “Mary” and couldn’t understand at all – I’ve never met a Jew named Mary – to the synagogue, B’Nai something or other, which after hearing B’Nai pronounced as “Buh Nye” when it has always been “Buh Nay” in New York and Florida, and a few other mispronunciation of Jewish phrases all just sort of confused me and frankly, pissed me off. Someone is supposed to check these things.
But the story, the story! It’s wonderful, and not only because it’s Judy Blume and I don’t think she can write a bad book. The beginning sort of sets the tone and time period; women were mostly housewives, kids were respectful and kept in the dark a lot. We meet our main character, Miri, a 15 year old in Elizabeth, NJ who lives with her single mom, Rusty, with her grandmother and her uncle right next door. Mary’s uncle Henry is a newspaper man, and covers the plane crashes in great detail. Her best friend is Natalie, and Miri guiltily fantasizes about her mother marrying Natalie’s father (with nothing too terrible happening to Natalie’s mom) and having that comfortable, upper middle class life. And then the plane crashes start happening.
The plot is out there, you don’t need me to rehash it. Instead, let me tell you about the wonderful characters that Blume creates here, unforgettable people who experience incredible tragedy. The survivors and how they dealt with it all. The brothers who lost their mother and their father is an alcoholic, so they live in a fairly nice orphanage – no foster care tragedy here. The families, some torn apart, with real problems and real solutions. The setting of this New Jersey town and how the people there come together because of these plane crashes is completely relatable to all the tragedies that have been in the news lately. The time period is portrayed in an almost romanticized way, yet it always rings true, from 1950’s Elizabeth, then later on, the new city in the desert, Las Vegas.
I am sorry I didn’t read the print (or Kindle) version and probably will on my next vacation. In the Unlikely Event was a completely fascinating and emotional read and listening to it (albeit briefly) on a plane gave me sharp recognition of where the title came from, even with the Virgin America music video version of the pre-flight safety instructions: “In the unlikely event/ We need to get you outside/ Your exit is equipped/ With an inflatable slide.”
If you like a good character driven story, good writing, and an interesting premise, then you will love this book as much as I did. Just read it, don’t listen to it.
7/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume (Audio book.) Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (June 2, 2015). ISBN 978-1101914045. 11 discs.