Katie Olmstead deals with family issues throughout “Call Me When You Land,” and they threaten to grind her up. Our portrait of this almost-forty Massachusetts single mom is so close, I checked after finishing the book to see whether I was remembering it wrong – but no, it’s written in the third person, but the point of view is so Katie-centric that it has the feel of a first-person narrative.
The first event we encounter in this narrative is the far-off death of Katie’s son’s father, an event that shakes Katie and her son CJ. Something about this event also rattles the already-threadbare bond between mother and son, and drives Katie deeper into the bottle. In fact, Katie imbibes alcohol from the first page onward in this book, a habit that author Michael Schiavone very effectively shows to be quite alarming. CJ acts out on the hockey rink where Katie can witness it, and probably in other places where she can’t. Drink reduces Katie’s inhibitions and she drags a former boyfriend back to bed for incautious and self-absorbed gratification. Throughout, Katie drinks and drinks, and then drinks some more, and then drinks because her hangover is so bad.
Katie’s cluelessness and denial in the face of all the male characters cannot ultimately eclipse the gleaming, monstrous Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle which CJ’s father bequeaths to him. This ticket to ride, that CJ’s biological father leaves for his son, wonderfully encapsulates the idea that CJ can get away to a place where he can finally become the focus of his mother’s attention. And Katie’s reaction to CJ’s flight is one of the true keys of this well-told novel – a non-act that forms the heart of the action and sets Katie’s spiral on a more hopeful course.
Katie’s character wore me down for much of this story, I’ll be honest. I’m definitely glad I stuck with her, though, and with this debut novel of Mr. Schiavone’s. What he sets out to do, he does with style and depth. He’s definitely at one with telling the human story, and I do hope it’s a territory he explores again very soon, and very often.