Academic journal article American Studies

FLYOVER LIVES: A Memoir

Academic journal article American Studies

FLYOVER LIVES: A Memoir

Article excerpt

FLYOVER LIVES: A Memoir. By Diane Johnson. New York: Viking. 2014.

Describing the arrival of Diane Johnson's ancestors from Europe to the Midwest, tracing her passage from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, and revealing glimpses of the incidents that led to her current transatlantic personal and professional life, Flyover Lives consists of the elements of history, autobiography, and travel.

"Americans are naïve and indifferent to history" (3), the remark made by John- son's French hostess, fueled her curiosity about her family history, and she discovered in the papers of her great-great grandmother Catherine Anne Perkins Martin that in 1711 her forefathers, the brothers René and François Cossé, had been captured by the English on board a ship en route to Canada. Subsequently, René Cossé (Ranna Cossitt) remained in Connecticut, refusing to be sent to Montreal in exchange for the English prisoners of the French taken during the Anglo-French rivalry over Canada. In 1820, Catherine's mother Anne Cossitt, Ranna's great granddaughter and John- son's great-great-great grandmother, married a man called Meyrick and went to the Midwest, which Johnson identifies as the "flyover country."

Depicting personal, familial, and social history with an episodic plot, Diane Johnson's memoir calls to mind A Backward Glance (1934), the autobiography of Edith Wharton, another fin de siècle American writer in Paris. Unlike her literary predecessor's transatlantic residence, however, that of Johnson resulted from her second husband's professional obligation rather than her own preference. Different from those of the earlier writer too, Johnson's recollections reveal an unexceptional childhood. Her father, a high school principal, and her mother, an art teacher, used to be "great readers" (49), who introduced the classics to their daughter at home and in Carnegie Library in Moline, the author's hometown. …

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