cover image Learning to Fly : A Writer’s Memoir

Learning to Fly : A Writer’s Memoir

Mary Lee Settle, , edited by Anne Freeman. . Norton, $24.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05732-4

Settle, who died in 2005, won the National Book Award in 1978 for Blood Ties and was the founder of the PEN/Faulkner Prize. Two years before her death Settle wanted “to trace the path that led me into being the writer I have become.” This remarkable memoir is the result. Edited by Freeman, the story begins in the summer of 1938, when Settle, an independent 20-year-old, is intent on becoming an actress. After an internship at the Barter Theatre in Virginia, where she learned “some of the most valuable lessons as a writer I have ever had,” Settle moves to New York, where she lands a modeling job during the glamorous time of the World’s Fair. She vividly depicts a long vanished world, peopled with White Russians, aristocratic English women and ancient splay-footed nannies: “We were not aware yet that everything we took for granted was disappearing or changing, like a shaken kaleidoscope, not of colors but time and sound and habit and decision.” She recounts through exquisite detail and language how her roles as a wartime bride and young mother, a signals operator with the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force, and freelance journalist, forged her commitment to becoming a writer. Filled with adventure and insight, this is a delightfully literate recounting of a life lived to its fullest. (Aug.)