Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Brace for impact." "You must choose."
Two voices, one epiphany: reviewing Flight of Faith

I looked out at the city skyline and then at the wing. The water was closing in. I squinted to try to estimate our altitude, and wondered what a river ditching would feel like. Into my mind flashed images of the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 767 off the coast of the Comoros Islands. Not two months prior, I had seen a television documentary on aviation disasters, and I remembered how that plane had careened across the ocean and broken into several pieces, killing most of the passengers on board. A video camera, operated by a vacationing tourist on the shore, caught the crash in the last few seconds. It had been startling to watch, and now the scene played over and over in my mind's eye.
It is extremely embarrassing to be reading a book while riding an exercise bike and to be wiping away tears simultaneously. Even if the only witness is one's husband who I am sure would have merely asked what I was reading if he had turned his head and witnessed it. Granted, he would not have had to ask since I had been peppering him with quotations from the air traffic controller's conversation with the pilot of the famously miraculous safe landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.

This slender volume is extremely well written and easily achieves its goal of taking us with Fred Berretta to the point where his presence as a passenger on that flight is instrumental in hearing and answering God's call when he is facing imminent death. The book begins with Berretta's daily routine on that fateful morning and then, through a series of flashbacks, shows us how his spiritual struggles, whether for better or worse, has primed him for being able to honestly consider death, eternity, and salvation in the very short time he was given. We know by then that Berretta is a pilot himself, having long been fascinated with flying, and well able to judge the danger in which everyone was placed when the engines were destroyed by a random encounter with a flock of geese.

The skill of the writing becomes apparent when one considers that we already know the outcome. The flight was landed safely, The passengers were all rescued. The crew performed their duties heroically and received accolades modestly. Berretta had a spiritual epiphany which he joyfully mentioned whenever given the opportunity. However, by interspersing Berretta's eye witness passenger testimony with the conversation between the air traffic controller and the pilot, tension is maintained as the increasingly incredulous and frantic controller struggles to offer options which the aircraft cannot achieve. We also are very interested in what Berretta will experience within his soul as his last moment reflections are gradually revealed to our anxious gaze.

As I mentioned, this is a slender volume, extremely slender in fact at only 36 pages of text with five additional pages of photos. I began to read thinking that $14.95 was surely too much to ask for so little. By the end I had revised my opinion, realizing that such an honest testimony would be worth that amount to someone who needed it.

However, there is one big problem with the book. Just at the moment when we are primed to hear a resolution, a conclusion to the adventure, the story ends abruptly. Had not the author survived to write the book we would have thought that he dictated to someone on the way down and died during rescue. At that point the reader is aching to know Berretta's further spiritual progress or realizations, what happened to the stout man of his acquaintance he greets earlier (otherwise, why bother mentioning him at all?), and, at the very least, about the landing of the plane. To simply drop the story at that point is a huge letdown.

I read a pre-publication proof of the book so am hoping that the publishers and author will consider finishing the story to which I would otherwise give a big thumbs-up. Certainly there is wiggle room in the page count versus the cost, tons of it. It is only that consideration which prevents me from giving it a "highest recommendation" rating. C'mon publisher, give us the rest of the story!

The publisher sez:
I will save you from your frustration and tell you that it was just the first five chapters – it is 12 chapters total. ;-) No worries – you will get the read the end!

It is not unheard of to publish advanced reader copies with only a few chapters as a teaser. Especially as we were hoping very much to publish this book by the anniversary of the crash, we had to move quickly to get the advance reader copies out.
If the galley said that anywhere it wasn't obvious. However, imagine my relief!

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