Topics and Questions for Discussion
- We know from the opening chapter of The Flying Circus that Henry has been accused of a crime, but Crandall doesn’t reveal the facts about Emmaline’s murder until much later in the story. How did your impression of Henry evolve as you discovered more about his backstory? Did your feelings about his guilt or innocence change at any time?
- What does flying mean to Henry, Cora, and Gil respectively? What does it help them achieve—or escape from?
- On p.104, Crandall writes, “Gil’s acknowledgment that [Cora] was every bit as much a daredevil as he was coming hard and slow. Henry thought perhaps it was compounded because their motivations for taking life in hand were so different.” Discuss the nature Gil and Cora’s risk-taking. What drives them to perform stunts, and how do their motivations evolve over the course of the novel?
- One of the major themes of The Flying Circus is the balance between bravery and vulnerability, and how these two characteristics are often two sides of the same coin. Discuss how Henry, Cora, and Gil exhibit both qualities over the course of the novel. Ultimately, which character do you think is the most courageous?
- While Henry urges Gil to open up about his experiences in WWI, ultimately he’s not sure if talking is actually therapeutic. “Henry had been prepared for the horror,” Crandall writes. “He hadn’t been prepared for the rush of shame he felt for pushing Gil into painful memories; shame and sympathy” (p.101). What is your take on Gil’s reticence? What do you think the novel has to say about PTSD in general?
- WWI casts a long shadow over The Flying Circus, but the novel addresses prohibition, women’s rights, and civil rights as well. How does historical context influence the course of events in The Flying Circus? How would Henry, Cora, and Gil be different if they lived in contemporary America?
- The complicated dynamic between Cora, Henry, and Gil drives much of the tension in the novel. In your opinion, what draws Henry and Gil to Cora, and vice versa? Do you think that Gil and Cora might have made a good match?
- Why do you think Crandall decided to tell the story from Henry’s point of view? How would The Flying Circus be different if Gil or Cora had narrated the story?
- On p.347, Crandall writes, “Gil’s permanent absence proved to be more of a wall between them than his presence had ever been.” Why does Cora pull away from Henry after Gil’s death? Would you have reacted in the same way?
- Do you think Gil committed suicide, or was the crash an accident? Why or why not?
- On p.353, Crandall writes, “It was a blessing that Gil hadn’t lived to see his beloved free-flying aircraft bound by so many restrictions.” Do you think that the antics of barnstormers were reckless? Did The Flying Circus impact how you view aviation?
- Why do you think Crandall chose the William Butler Yeats poem as the novel’s epigraph? Did its meaning change for you after you had finished The Flying Circus?
Enhance Your Book Club
- Has your book group read other historical or romance novels? How did The Flying Circus compare?
- Watch a classic movie about barnstorming with your book club (i.e. Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies or The Great Waldo Pepper). Compare and contrast the film’s portrayal of aviation with that of The Flying Circus.
- Gil’s struggle with PTSD still is, unfortunately, a serious problem for today’s war veterans. Visit a site like http://www.uso.org to learn ways to support troops coming home from combat.