On some level, The Layover by Lacie Waldon is a rom-com where two protagonists meet on a plane and discover that they have much in common with each other than they had previously thought. Spending time together with periods of intense self-revelatory explorations convinces them that they’re compatible on multiple levels. However, such a breezy précis does this introspective book a disservice. Waldon has done deep psychological work in this story.
Ava Greene always wakes up from deep sleep in disorientation of where she is: hotel or home? Either answer could be true on any given day. And the minute she is up, she is in motion. Ava is a flight attendant — three days out of seven, she’s on the move. The rest of the time, she is at home. But those times she is home differ from week to week. As a result, she has lost friends who like predictability.
Ava’s deepest sorrow is the way she grew up at the mercy of laidback parents who weren’t interested in parenting or watching out for a little girl in the midst of plans that were disrupted on a whim. Ava craves routine, she craves stability, she craves “normalcy.” So when she meets a man who is all of that, she says “yes” to him the minute he proposes. One of his asks is that she quit her nomadic nine-year career. Ava is happy to oblige him in whatever he wants. Her final act of subconscious rebellion is going to be her last three-day stint all the way to Belize.
And who should she meet on the flight, but Jack Stone — perfect body, perfect flight attendant, and perfect buddy of her past cheating ex. She has forever linked Jack with her past humiliation and devastation, and so she is not best pleased to have to work the back of the plane with him. He is amused with her animosity and deflects her barbs with casual insouciance.
Jack, the former Air Force pilot, has his own parental demons to fight as well as process the reason he had to leave a prestigious piloting job with a hefty paycheck. Ava thinks that he has come down in the world from the pinnacle of flying success to serving coffee to disgruntled passengers.
The Layover is about Ava overcoming the insecurities of her childhood to discover for herself who she is and what she wants. Socrates has said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Through Ava, Waldon explores just that. She has Ava lay herself open to self-questioning and doubt.
Waldon does an excellent job of sowing the seeds of this self-discovery when Ava chooses an unstable career, when what she deeply desires is stability. Ava could’ve chosen a desk job in any big city with better benefits and predictable hours. Yet, paradoxically, she chooses to work a job with unreliable hours. What is her subconsciously telling her? For a long time, she turns a deaf ear to it while showing up conscientiously for that unsteady job.
Her choice in fiancé comes from an immature desire to have everything that is “anti” her past. She wants to completely reject her childhood with its crazy instability and unpredictability, so she wants the safe, boring fiancé. Unfortunately for her, what she mistakes as painstaking orderliness is in reality a controlling, domineering nature. But for many months, she is in thrall to his stability and has convinced herself that what he wants, she wants.
It is only when she meets Jack that she realizes the error in her beliefs. In each other, Ava and Jack discover an adventuring spirit who enjoys their seven-mile-high workspace. The ephemeral joys of discovering new places and an ability to seize life where it meets them makes them kindred spirits. Who else would understand them better than another on the same life journey?
Growing up is not linear, but rather, in fits and starts. A cataclysmic event finally gives her the space to acquire insight into her own character, thereby allowing her to finally be able to leave her childhood behind and own her adulthood.
The Layover is a wonderful meditation on the conscious and subconscious mind, traumas of childhood, and the separation of the adult from the child. And Waldon does it all with the light hand of a rom-com. Do pick it up!