There is something terrifying yet absolutely comforting about coming across a character that seems to be of equal mind to mine. Or maybe it’s the author’s thoughts that might as well have been pulled out of my very own mind. Not that I could have written this tale but the voice! That voice was like echoes of my own. Not to say either that I would ever think of kidnapping a baby (even if it were my own) to travel cross-country, so that my grandmother might meet this baby. I think this premise did make for a rather far-fetched plot but in the interest of the book, I decided to stretch my suspension of disbelief a little more than I usually do. In doing so, I think I really came to appreciate what The Paradox of Vertical Flight is about.
What happens when you put a suicidal eighteen-year-old philosophy student, his ex-girlfriend, his best friend, and his newborn baby in a truck and send them to Grandma's house?
On the morning of his eighteenth birthday, philosophy student and high school senior Jack Polovsky is somewhat seriously thinking of suicide when his cell phone rings. Jack's ex-girlfriend, Jess, has given birth, and Jack is the father. Jack hasn't spoken with Jess in about nine months—and she wants him to see the baby before he is adopted. The new teenage father kidnaps the baby, names him Socrates, stocks up on baby supplies at Wal-Mart, and hits the road with his best friend, Tommy, and the ex-girlfriend. As they head to Grandma's house (eluding the police at every turn), Jack tells baby Socrates about Homer, Troy, Aristotle, the real Socrates, and the Greek myths—because all stories spring from those stories, really. Even this one. Funny, heart-wrenching, and wholly original, this debut novel by Emil Ostrovski explores the nature of family, love, friendship, fate, fatherhood, and myth.
The Paradox of Vertical Flight itself is a fairly short book. 256 pages at 1.5 line spacing, so it’s easy to fly through the book. Yet, I’d say to fully appreciate it, it’d be best to sit in a quiet corner with more than a couple of hours to spare when reading it. This way there’s time to let all the words wash over you and the space to let your mind wander. That is because I find that what made this book so great for me is that it made me think about my own life and the things that should matter more and the things that should matter less.
The father of the baby came to name the baby Socrates. It didn’t matter to him if others would accept the name. All that mattered was that he could call him Socrates. If that name choice is any indication, the narrative bordered on the philosophical for a good part of the book. Those who enjoy philosophy will recognize a lot of the theories weaved into the book. Yet it did not become so inaccessible that anyone who has never learned any philosophy will not understand the musings of the main character.
What I liked best about The Paradox of Vertical Flight is that it gives a lot of credit to the reader. It expects an intellectual involvement that exceeds many YA books. Instead of a plain retelling of events, there is also a great focus on the things a teenager thinks about. Sure, boys will be boys and all that but despite all the stupid things teenagers do (like getting his ex-girlfriend pregnant in this case), they do have more mature thoughts than many adults like to believe. I wasn’t surprised then when I found out that the author himself is only in his early twenties. I think that allowed him to encapsulate the thoughts, emotions and actions of this 18-year-old so perfectly.