Lynn Steger Strong hates this part. The waiting. The talking. The anticipation. She’s reading, scrolling through social media, looking for anything to distract her from her complicated feelings around the publication of her next book, Flight (Mariner, Nov.). “I love writing, I really do—I’m not one of those writers that doesn’t like it,” she says via Zoom from her home in Portland, Maine. “But I feel so scared and uncertain around being a writer.”
Every writer can relate, surely. But Strong comes at this fear from a particular experience. Her second novel, Want, hit shelves in summer 2020, and like the rest of us, she was essentially locked inside her home at the time. The intensely first-person account, centered on a Brooklyn academic whose family’s economic situation turns dire, found critical acclaim and substantial readership—but Strong’s life didn’t exactly change. Angry posts on Goodreads said Want’s narrator, Elizabeth, should suck it up and leave New York, just as Strong and her husband had to, well, suck it up and leave New York.
“During Covid, I got an email congratulating me about Want while we were packing up our apartment because my husband lost his job,” she says. “I threw my phone across the room. I’d written this book about the safety net, and everything was broken. The book was over, but I was very much living the realities of it.”
Under the cloud of the pandemic and going broke and moving back in with her in-laws in Florida, and coming off of a novel coursing with urgent rage, Strong found herself improbably drawn to hope. “I always want to be writing the book that feels like the hardest book to write,” she says. “And actually writing a book about hope and people loving each other in 2020 felt just fucked up enough to try it. I don’t think I would’ve written this book under different circumstances.”
And so we have Flight—a warm, empathic, but still incisive, family saga that marks a thrilling expansion of Strong’s fictional gaze. We’re far beyond the insular, singular perspective that sustained Want, with the author now toggling between several perspectives as adult siblings Henry, Kate, and Martin—as well as their families—gather for the holidays in the aftermath of their mother’s death. Between them are the kinds of painful memories, weathered affections, and various entitlements that pull them close and then apart and then back together again. Strong spends ample time on these rich, thorny dynamics before a girl goes missing in their Upstate New York town, binding them on a shared mission—a grand call for unity.
Flight is Strong’s debut with Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, where she worked with editor Kate Nintzel. “What’s struck me throughout the process is how clearly she knows her vision and her work,” Nintzel says. “The themes, the characters, even the dialogue—I would guess that those pieces of the novel are essentially unchanged from the first draft I read.”
Like any juicy family argument, the novel seems to constantly shift in its allegiances, granting equal, maddening weight to each narrator. “At the levels of sentence and structure, I was constantly thinking about how to de-emphasize the individuals, even as I am and was always ultimately invested in character,” Strong says. “I wanted them to feel alive and real, but I also wanted you to be on different people’s teams at almost every beat.”
The points at which Want and Flight run in parallel arrive via Strong’s thorough interrogations. She lets no one off easy, whether she’s got one or more than a half-dozen protagonists to deal with.
“The incisiveness of Strong’s psychological portraits have always captured me,” says Strong’s agent Sarah Bowlin. “It’s one of the many pleasures of working with her—getting to watch her brain up close as she delves deeply into her characters’ minds.”
That collectivism, which Strong very clearly prioritizes in the book, does not come easy. Her Want protagonist was taken by many readers to be a thinly veiled version of herself. Strong remembers sending a friend a voice note back in 2020 that said, “I’d always wanted to make something great, but I never had much faith in myself as a person—how would this silly, dumb mom make something great?” The model of the authorial genius, the writer who carries every ounce of weight herself, needed to be unlearned for her own well-being and confidence as a storyteller.
This personal journey went on to inform Flight, as the book’s philosophy reflects its making—a far cry from the solitary experience of writing Want. “What I realized during Covid is, I don’t have to do it by myself—I don’t have any interest in making books by myself.” She brought friends, writers, colleagues into her process. “That really informed how I was able to think about this book in new ways.”
There’s a sense of fluidity in Strong’s approach to writing. She’s energized by formal challenges and compelled by gaps between dialogue and plot, which contain so much, even as they say so little. She obsessed over giving each Flight character equal opportunity to be right and wrong, appealing and repellent. Around that attention to fullness, to personhood, is what Strong calls “scaffolding”; the real work, by contrast, is in the seemingly simple stuff. “At some point in my life, I will be a good enough writer to write a novel in which two women stand barefoot in a kitchen and don’t talk,” she says, “because everything I want to say as a writer lives inside of that moment.”
If Strong’s Want was seen by some as autofiction, Flight will be slotted into a different category—the family novel. “It’s scary to inhabit a space that feels like it’s been inhabited before, and the family novel is a scary space to inhabit as a female writer,” she says. She points to the cultural tendency to reduce female authors’ contributions to the canon as quiet, or domestic, or internal. She wants to be taken seriously, her efforts at bringing precision and complexity and singularity to the form recognized. “It’s cool and en vogue as a woman to be angry right now,” she says. “It feels scary to just want to write a book about how people love each other.”
This brings us back to 2020. When Want was published, Strong didn’t get to sign copies for lines of fans; all of the events were via Zoom. “I finally read Want a couple months ago for the first time out loud in person,” she says, “and I realized that I was sad that I’d never done that.” In contrast, the idea that “maybe I’ll experience this one a little bit” is what she finds so exciting and terrifying about Flight. How appropriate, for a book that so fully and so beautifully asserts—and, indeed, is a product of—the virtue of a collective.
David Aaron is a magazine writer and critic.