Cover Image: Wingwalkers

Wingwalkers

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’To my father, the pilot’

I’ve had a copy of Taylor Brown’s latest, Wingwalkers to read since last September, and have delayed reading it, not because I haven’t enjoyed his other books, but because he is one of my favourite authors who was writing about an era and a topic that is close to my heart.

When I was young I went to many of these events to see these ‘flying daredevils’ from a relatively safe perspective sitting on old wooden bleachers on the ground with my father. I didn’t know then that once upon a time my father had, albeit briefly, done some of these things, including being a wingwalker on at least one occasion that I only learned many years later, as well as some Aerobatics. My father’s first plane that he co-owned with some buddies was also a Curtis JN Jenny. Three years ago, I read a book about one of my father’s flying buddies which gave me more insight into how this came to be.

This story begins in 1908, in Oxford, Mississippi.

The town Square was filled with carnival tents, and included a snake charmer, a bearded lady, and the wild man from Borneo, whose ankle was shackled to a stake, while the three Falkner brothers were there for another event. They came to watch a man ascend to the heavens and to see for themselves if he would live or die.

This is really two stories that weave together in a story of the era, the people, the hardships of the time and the desire for a bigger life. A life that includes a romance with the sky and a love of the written word. An era where access to the world was suddenly easier and faster. An era that allows for the possibility of William Faulkner and Zeno and Della’s lives to intersect. Zeno, a pilot who flew a Curtis JN Jenny, and Della, a wingwalker.

To say that I loved this would be an understatement. I love the way that Taylor Brown writes, and this brought back so many wonderful memories for me in addition to being a fascinating and beautifully shared story. I loved how this wove Faulkner’s love of writing with his enchantment with flying - not just planes but also the passion for exploring the sky by other means, the balloonists, and barnstormers, while also sharing the financial pitfalls of the era, the anguish of barely eking out a living in desperate times, the vagabonds, the danger, as well as love. I loved the story of Della and Zeno, and how these two stories eventually merge into one when fate steps in.

A captivating story with heartstopping moments, lovely descriptions of views from above, another superbly written, enchanting story that made this era really come alive, and made my heart sing.


Pub Date: 19 Apr 2022

Many thanks for the ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press
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I’ve fallen into reading the most recent books of Taylor Brown — a writer in the Southern Gothic tradition à la William Faulkner. His previous two novels, Gods of Howl Mountain and Pride of Eden, were pleasant enough but felt merely average — while finely written, they lacked a certain spark to make the purple prose fly off the page. Well, with Brown’s latest novel, Wingwalkers, he rectifies that problem because here he’s writing about a truly thrilling subject matter: barnstormers of the Dirty ’30s. This is a novel that takes to the air and flies, being almost two novels in one. One part of the tale is a fictional biography of Brown’s idol, Faulkner, as he grows up and gets interested in flight, going so far as to even make a plane of his own out of newspaper that crashes and burns in his family’s backyard. (A true story, it would turn out — and all of the Faulkner chapters are a fictional telling of real-life events, as outlandish as some of them may seem. Wikipedia bears this out.) The other half of the novel is about a romantic couple who tour the southern states of the U.S. during the early 1930s, struggling to make ends meet as they perform aerial stunts such as wing-walking for gathered crowds that they happen upon. Faulkner and the pair — Zeno and Della — eventually have a chance encounter towards the novel’s end at Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1934. That part being real, I’m not sure of.

In any event, the novel is tightly wound with thrilling escapes from danger, such as bush fires while camping and mock air battles. If anything, this novel illustrates just how dangerous stunt flying was in the early days of flight, with many of the participants getting killed in crashes, particularly in the last quarter of the book — which I hope is no spoiler. The novel is also beautiful in its poetic prose, with images of a Deep South that was down on its luck, particularly during this period as it had a scarcity of resources. It’s Brown’s first novel that I’ve read that you can accurately call a page-turner. What’s more, this is the novel that Malcolm Brooks’ Cloudmaker, which is about amateur aviation during roughly the same period, should have been. Where Cloudmaker was a slog through all of its jargon and tedious writing, Wingwalkers has hardly a dull moment. Well, okay, that’s a bit of a stretch because Wingwalkers’ mid-section does sag a bit.

Part of the reason Wingwalkers escapes being a five-star book and is merely a very good one is that the Della and Zeno angle quickly gets repetitious. They fly from town to town looking for work, meet people, and generally have altercations with them. Rinse and repeat. I suppose that’s the reason they’re considered gypsies in the book, but it’s as though Brown was padding out the novel just so he could shoehorn in more chapters about the life of William Faulkner. And, to be honest, while the Faulkner bits are interesting, they seem episodic. The life story of Faulkner is told chronologically but sometimes skips a few years, meaning that if you’re looking for something of a straight and full biography of the writer, you might want to look elsewhere. Brown namechecks a lot of early Faulkner novels, but I found it strange that one of his most famous, As I Lay Dying (1930), is absent entirely from mention. Perhaps Brown was trying to shine a light on some of Faulkner’s lesser-known works, but it does feel that pieces of the puzzle are missing here.

But, look, no novel is perfect. I’m willing to give higher marks to Wingwalkers than I did Gods of Howl Mountain or Pride of Eden simply because it is the better book. Brown seems to progressively improve from book to book, so I must say that I look forward to his next one. Still, what we have here is a consummate tale of action and adventure that will have your heart leaping in your throat from time to time. The story is fascinating and easy to follow and it is rich in imagery and evokes Great Depression-era America, particularly the South. Even if the tale can be said to go around in circles every now and then, this is a deeply exciting yarn. If anything, this novel will whet your appetite to read more Faulkner (I’ve only read one of his books, and it is the title already previously mentioned) if not head out to the next vintage airshow that rolls into town.

Wingwalkers is a captivating book, and it works as both a history of one of the world’s greatest writers of all time and as a historical look back at men (and women) and their flying machines of yore. Brown has outdone himself here and has unshackled himself from convoluted narratives. In all, Wingwalkers is probably going to be the novel that breaks him to a much wider audience, supply chain issues be damned, since it’s a marvelous read and you could do no worse than seek a copy for yourself to see what the fuss is all about. This is nearly top-notch stuff from a budding writer and student of the Southern Gothic written tradition and would make its influencer quite proud. Wingwalkers is a searing tale of danger in the skies and sometimes on the ground and shows that you can write literary fiction that excites and leaps off the page while still paying attention to one’s writing craft. In short, Brown has left an imprint with this work, and Wingwalkers is likely his first (and hopefully not the last) truly exciting work that he has produced, at least according to my memory. Go read it and find out for yourself!
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I’ve loved Taylor Brown’s previous novels Gods of Howl Mountain and Pride of Eden so I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of Wingwalkers. 

Della and Zeno Marigold are barnstorming their way across the Depression-era South as wingwalker and pilot. Their love story carries them through the grim landscape of Georgia and Alabama as they perform their daring aerial act to fund their journey to California. Meanwhile in a separate timeline, author William Faulkner’s life unfolds from childhood to fighter pilot to celebrated writer. Eventually these timelines briefly intersect in New Orleans where Della and Zeno to inspire Faulkner during a dramatic air show.

While Brown’s prose is stunning as always, Wingwalkers missed the mark for me. I never found myself whole-heartedly invested in the characters and the intersection of the the dual storylines was so minor I found myself thinking about how this would’ve packed a much bigger punch as a short story for me. That said, Brown is a talented storyteller I will continue to pick up without fail and I was a huge fan of the fascinating character Della (I would’ve loved a book focusing entirely on her!) 

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Wingwalkers is scheduled for release on April 19, 2022.
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4 flying stars

I picked this one up because I have really enjoyed this writer’s previous books. This interesting tale builds around a factual event when writer William Faulkner and two aerialists meet up in New Orleans.

There are two distinct storylines in this one, we meet Zeno and his wife Della – she really walks on the airplane wings and dangles from the plane during their air shows! Flying ace Zeno made it out of WWI, but they are barely scraping by during the Depression when people loved to turn out for their shows but didn’t have much money. They always seemed on the edge of crashing and burning.

The other storyline is about Billy and his brothers and their Southern upbringing. Billy eventually adds a “u” to his last name and becomes William Faulkner the famous writer. 

The author really brings the reader into this time and place and his knowledge of aviation shines through. I could perfectly picture the carnivals and atmosphere in this book. 

An interesting read and maybe I will finally read something by William Faulkner now!
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I received this from Netgalley.com.

"Wingwalkers is one-part epic adventure, one-part love story..."

Although I've enjoyed other books by Taylor Brown, this one didn't capture me. I liked the history of the story but the characters were flat.

2.75☆
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A fascinating and atmospheric story that brings the reader along for the danger and excitement.  Very well written. 
Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This novel is set in the early 20th century in the American South and is told from two viewpoints.  The first is “Bill”, a boy growing up with his brothers, obsessed with planes and flying.  The other is a flying ace and his daredevil wingwalking wife, who travel across the country performing.  The two storylines eventually converge when the characters meet up.   I enjoyed reading a tale set in this time and place, but wasn’t overwhelmingly engrossed.
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I really tried to like this book but had I realized the other books by the this author I would not have requested it. Wingwalkers follows Della and Zeno, a daredevil couple traveling the country showcasing Della as a wingwalker. The writing was beautiful but the entire story just fell flat. I found that I didn't care about the characters or where the story was going and ultimately ended up not finishing the novel. 2.5 stars.
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Do you love anything and everything about aviation history? Mixed with some speculative fictional history about a literary icon? If you do, this book may be for you!

Wingwalkers is a work of fiction that tells the story of Della and Zeno Marigold who were depression era barnstormers. They travel from town to town in the South performing crazy, death-defying aerial stunts to earn money just to get by. The author marries their story with that of William Faulkner, also a passionate pilot (something I did not know), giving glimpses into his young adult life.

This character-driven story is full of expansive description of landscape and stunts, and if you enjoy that cinematic quality in books, it is a bonus. For me, much of that is just too much, although the characters' stories were unique and compelling. Overall, the story was just okay for me.

The story is really different from most I've read, and that may make it the right fit for #bookstagrammers who love all things about Depression era aviation excitement.
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3.5 stars, rounded up
I’ve been a fan of Taylor Brown since I read The Gods of Howl Mountain.  His writing is something special.  Take this phrase “her white throat pumping the whiskey down.   It was backwoods busthead, through and through, a noxious fulminate that seemed capable of detonation without careful handling.”   In fact, I found myself highlighting multiple passages just for the sheer glory of the writing.  
This time, the story covers a former ace pilot, Zeno, and his stunt performing Wingwalker wife, Della, performing across the Depression era American South.  Their story is interspersed with the story of Billy Falkner, whom we now know as William Faulkner, who always had a thing about flying.  Faulkner’s story starts in 1908 and moves forward in time, until reaching 1934 when it intersects with Zeno and Della’s at the New Orleans Air Show.  
Brown writes in a way that allows you to easily envision every scene. He captures the precarious nature of flying back then.  
It’s not a fast paced story, but by the end I was sucked in, anxious to see how it would play out. I was so invested in Zeno and Della’s story, their need for freedom and life on their own terms.  The Faulkner story wasn’t nearly as engrossing, but is based on the actual facts of Faulkner’s life.  
While not my favorite of Brown’s works, I’ll continue to read anything he writes.  
My thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for an advance copy of this book.
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This was a good book, though I think you should have more than a passing interest in both the depression era in the South and William Faulkner, both of which prominent in this story.  Della and Zeno are husband and wife, Zeno is a WW1 flying ace who bears the scars, both physical and emotional of his time during the War. They make their living traveling to small towns or large businesses they view from their bi-wing plane, giving aerial demonstrations and rides to interested people (for .2 cents a lb!). It's not an easy life, they spend most nights sleeping under the wing of the plane with their dog, exposed to the elements, just barely getting by. In a separate storyline, we meet Bill Falkner (the u was added later apparently), him and his brothers are chasing after a hot air balloon that eventually crash lands on their parents property. Bill has stories in his head that he can't wait to write, he does eventually become a writer, publishing a number of books.  Bill, Della and Zeno meet at an airplane event, Della and Zeno on a motorcycle after their plane was destroyed during a storm, Bill is also a pilot and him and Zeno bond over this.  I enjoyed this book but I found at times the story dragged a bit, especially the number of times that Zeno and Della met up with someone on the ground to do a show/give rides, I found it a bit repetitious.  However, the author does have a lovely way of writing and that carried the story along.  I would recommend.  Thank you to #Netgalley and #St Martin's Press for the ARC.
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I wish to thank NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book.  I have voluntarily read and reviewed it.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

When I chose to request this book I did so based on the title which I thought would be exciting and informative.  I must admit that I was really disappointed with my choice.  The time frames in the book were from 1908 until 1935.  It was constantly back and forth and the characters were not engaging.  The real surprise was that it dealt with the life of William Faulkner.  I found this part very interesting and made me wish for more of a biography about him.   But, the pilot Zeno and wingwalker Della were nothing special.  About half way through I wanted to stop reading it but stayed with it to the end because I felt I had promise to review the book.

The writer is truly a master wordsmith and his descriptions were beautifully written but the story was lacking in readability.  I hope he will do more about the Faulkner family. He did a lot of research and should use it to give us that story.
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I probably should have realized I did not care much for one of Brown's earlier books, but I was hopeful.

Sorely disappointed considering some of the advance reviews.

The setting: 
"A former WWI ace pilot [Zeno] and his wingwalker wife  [Della] barnstorm across Depression-era America, performing acts of aerial daring.... The novel braids [their adventures] ... with the life of the author [and thwarted fighter pilot) William Faulkner, whom the couple ultimately inspires during a dramatic air show—with unexpected consequences for all."

Ok the premise appealed to me. The delivery, not.

I did not care for any of the characters and could have put this book down at any time. I was never engaged.

The novel zig zags all over the place--the timeline neither linear nor dual.

Although there were a FEW instances where I quite liked SOME of the descriptions:

"dew-black with dawn"
"the sun was malignant a white boil in the sky, so hot  you could hardly breathe."
"Sunlight was jeweling the avenues"

Mostly, I cringed:

"The hard breastless seed she'd been had budded, bursting into the light. Her body had swelled with little hillocks and valleys, a whole new country of pale flesh rising beneath her clothers. How he wanted to send the sled-runners of his fingers across that landsape, to blush her skin with the heat of his breath."

"Her limbs glowed."

"His blood ran scaling beneath his skin, so hot it could kill him."

"He wrote lovingly of her boy's breast and plain flanks, the scarce-dreamed curving of her thigh. The grown and simple music of her knees. In these poems, her breasts were twin timorous rabbits." REALLY?!

"...the swollen power of his body, every muscle bulking against the exquisite web of tendon and sinew and vein."

"His heart trembles with the fury of creation, as with a thousand quivering wings."

ENOUGH!! But I could go on and on!

[so maybe the descriptions of nature are far better than that of body parts!]

And, at the end, "He could feel the goo of time passing through his fingers..." WHAT?!

Editorial query: When Faulkner went to England to try to join the RAF, why were the measurements given in inches--not centimeters? [ok this is a US publication, but, seemed wrong to me].

I liked the cover.
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WINGWALKERS
BY: TAYLOR BROWN

I have been saving this beautifully written historical novel called "Wingwalkers," by the prolific writer of gorgeous prose by Taylor Brown as a treat. I was first introduced to the power of this talented Author when I first read his stunning novel called, "Fallen Land." I am pretty sure that was Taylor Brown's first novel that was published in 2016. I have loved that novel and I think it remains my favorite of his. This one was also brilliantly written and the prose is breathtaking which alternates chapters between Zeno and Della who today seem like they would be an unlikely match but set in the early 1900's spanning through the Depression era and the early years of William Faulkner to his years later in life. I will say that Taylor Brown's novels are all uniquely different in that each one is fresh and unlike any of his previous work.

I didn't know that William Faulkner was the one in his family to change his name which he added the "U" to his name. The book informs that going back to his Great Grandfather to his own father Murry Falkner who is none too impressed with William's first published novel. I learned so much about a writer whose work I admired the great William Faulkner. I never knew that he shared the love of aviation and flew for the RAF and was left with a limp and a head wound that is described as a metal plate.

Unlike Zeno and Della who flew Zeno's early plane called Jenny earning their meal to meal existence giving rides in the Jenny asking for 2 or 3 cents per pound. They also traded shows of fancy flying for fuel. When the Jenny can't fly anymore they steal a motor bike with a side car for Della and their adorable dog. I had to smile knowing Della refused Zeno's initial idea of stealing a car but then she seems unfazed about stealing someones motor bike using a bobby pin to pick the lock herself.

The writing is genius and even though I wanted to make this one last and savor it slowly it was over way too soon. I was charmed by the atmospheric writing and the imagery Taylor Brown is seemingly able to evoke so easily. I was drawn in right from the start and was immersed in the vivid language. Truly one Author I admire and is in a class of his own. I rate this a 4.5 star reading experience. Would recommend that all fans who admire literary fiction that is able to make the setting, characterizations rise to its full three dimensions pre-order yourself a copy.

Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Thank you to Net Galley, Taylor Brown and St. Martin's Press for generously providing me with my wonderful ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

#Wingwalkers #TaylorBrown #StMartin'sPress #NetGalley
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Do you like adventure and romance? If so, you will enjoy this book. It’s an easy, quick read and I enjoyed myself.
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A very American novel, with an interesting plot and premise. I stayed mostly engaged and was pleasantly surprised a few times. This will likely satisfy a lot of historical fiction fans.

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
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Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review. 
Expected publication date: April 19, 2022
Taylor Brown, of “Gods of Hollow Mountain” fame, returns with a story based on events that happened to author, William Faulkner, during the 1930s. A pilot, Zeno, and his daredevil wife travel the countryside in a small plane, persuading spectators to view their dangerous, death-defying aeronautics. As Zeno and his wife travel, young Bill Faulkner grows up with a desire to be a pilot, convincing his younger brothers to build and fly airplanes with him. When their paths cross at an airshow in New Orleans, the three become fast friends and bond over their love of aircrafts and flying. 
Brown can sure write a pretty piece. He is the only author I’ve read in the modern era who can wax poetic on drinking a bottle of Coke in a diner. The characters Brown creates are admirable and charming, and his plot has some good bones to it, but most of the novel itself is filled with fluff and flowery prose. The novel is told from the perspective of Della and Zeno in the 1930s era, and from the perspective of Bill Faulkner, as he grows up, until he meets Della and Zeno in their time period. Although the true identity of “Bill” is not known until the juxtaposition of time periods, it is hinted at throughout the plot, and it adds a nice twist when this truth is revealed. 
I enjoyed the travels of Della and Zeno, and although their relationship was passionate and powerful, their love of airplanes and air travel seemed to overshadow any other romantic plots. Of course, Zeno and Della’s beloved terrier stole my heart, and he, by far, was my favourite “character” of the novel. 
Brown has the writing ability to be memorable, and he uses the pretty words that you expect when you read a classic novelist. The plot in “Wingwalkers” is death-defying and romantic, yet slow in spots. I loved the characters and their travels together, but the detail could’ve been toned down in some areas (for example, the details of Zena, Della and Bill’s extensive trips to bars and pubs through Louisiana, including the drinks they consumed, was more than I wanted to know). Overall, “Wingwalkers” is a great novel for anyone interested in William Faulkner (even though the novel is loosely based on one event in his life) or has a passion for flying machines, piloting, and its extensive history.
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I thought this book was going to be something else entirely. I’m not sure why but I thought this was going to be about a group of awesome wingwalking women. There is the one woman and her husband and random other people doing things. Some of the book pulled me in, but most of it I didn’t care for and I dnfed it at one point. 

There will be a lot of people that love this book so you can make up your own mind. 

*Many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for a digital copy of this book.
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“Wing-walkers” is a fine literary novel set in the American South during the early 20th century. Fans of depression-era stories, tales about flying and/or being “on the road,” William Faulkner (and maybe John Steinbeck and/or Tennessee Williams and/or F. Scott Fitzgerald), New Orleans, and excellent writing should find much to enjoy.

A dual-plot story, "Wing-walkers" is set mostly in the 1930s. The first plot features Zeno and Della Marigold, a passionate, barnstorming couple who stunt-fly from town to town, passing the hat for money to feed themselves, sleeping under the wing of their dilapidated “Jenny” bi-plane, all the while trying to make it out of the South to a new life in California. The second plot features William Faulkner as he grows to manhood and learns to write and fly in his native Mississippi. Faulkner and the Marigolds are constantly on the move and every move means a new setting, challenge, or adventure.  However, it is not until the end of the novel that Faulkner and the Marigolds actually meet.

The most striking aspect of this novel is author Taylor Brown’s prose. It is very, very rich, filled with beautifully crafted imagery and symbolism.  It’s the kind of writing that causes other writers to shake their heads and ask: “How did he do that? I wish I could do that!” Those who enjoy fine writing for the sake of fine writing may find themselves in Seventh Heaven.

However, those seeking an exciting, “page-turner” of a story may be disappointed. As other readers have noted, the pace is slow.  At times, the characters and their aims and desires—the things that drive them—seem somewhat elusive.  And at other times, even though the novel is beautifully written, it can seem over-written. And I came away wondering whether this wasn't really two novellas turned into a novel since the connection between Falkner and the Marigolds is tenuous.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed “Wing-walkers” and would recommend it to others who enjoy literary novels. My thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an ARC.  The foregoing is my independent opinion.
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This book rates a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. Fantastic writing, yet sluggish story progression. In a nutshell, that best describes my takeaways from this book. This is my first exposure to Taylor Brown. I am thoroughly impressed, particularly with his rich, vivid, colorful descriptions and characters. The story did seem to drag a bit at times. More than once, I caught myself wondering where it all was going, particularly in the first half of the book. The more I read, the clearer the direction became. Also, I think it helped that I was able to read it relatively nonstop, rather than trying to read it two or three chapters at a time. I’d like to thank Taylor and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of the book. It was a very satisfying read.
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