The Flight Attendant
by Chris Bohjalian
Sister. Orphan. Flight Attendant.
Lonely. Drunk. Easy.
Cassandra Bowden is all of these things. Complex and simple; she is a contradiction.
Being a drunk helps her forget. The numbness that comes with alcohol is the real craving. As vodka, gin, or tequila trickle down her throat and spreads into her stomach, they help to create a warm trail of deception. She becomes outgoing – in overtly embarrassing ways. She loses her insecurities – and shares her body with nearly anyone. She becomes smarter – if only to herself. Alcohol allows her to become whomever she wants to be, even if she can’t remember.
The black-outs are normal, for Cassie. She has become accustomed to waking up in any number of countries around the world, wrapped around a beautiful stranger, the smell of their sex lingering in the air of the hotel room amongst empty mini-bar bottles and lacy undergarments. Paris. Rome. Frankfurt. All of these landmark cities hold secrets of her life, snapshots of bad decisions and a myriad of mistakes. Being a flight attendant has a multitude of advantages: she can slip into the skin of anyone she so desires, slip between the sheets with whomever will take her, and forget the long nights spent in the company of booze and boys by hopping the next flight out in the morning. She leaves behind her transgressions in a cloud of jet fuel and roasted snack-sized peanuts.
One particular random hook-up will change things for Cassie, and not necessarily for the better. Meeting the handsome and enthusiastic Alex on her flight was a happy coincidence. Their flirty chatter helped to alleviate the persistent hangover Cassie was enduring, and passed the time on the long flight from New York to Dubai in a pleasant fashion. He was charming when he invited her to dinner, the two of them discussing Tolstoy and Russian literature over a duo of expensive meals, all the more lubricated by the constant flow of high-end liquor. Alex was attentive and gentle as he washed her hair in the shower of his extravagant hotel suite. He was full of finesse and vigor as he made love to her repeatedly over the course of their evening together; their time in one another’s company only interrupted once – when a vague colleague named Miranda joined them for a drink.
In the deep and foggy recesses of her mind, Cassie knows she put her clothes back on at some point and departed Alex’s suite, hoping to make it back to her own hotel room and the group of flight attendants she was working with before anyone noticed. She tried not to make it a habit of sleeping over, preferring to wake up in her own room so she had plenty of time to get ready before jetting back to New York. She also liked to try and avoid the subsequent judgements from her co-workers when they realized she’d hooked up with yet another man. But sometimes the alcohol voids all sense of reason; the black-out drunkenness forbids her from truly committing herself to anything but whatever happens to be in that precise moment.
When Cassie wakes up, she can sense she is not alone. Flickers of light seep into the room from the suite’s impressive bank of windows, the Dubai sun bringing with it a temperature that she knows will be next to unbearable. She must get up. She must get out. She must back her way back to her own hotel. Despite the incessant pounding in her head.
Slowly turning over to face Alex so she can beg off politely, Cassie is faced with the unexpected.
He’s dead. And not just dead, but brutally murdered. His throat has been slashed, his head all but severed from the rest of his young and muscular body. There is blood everywhere, soaking into the mattress and slicking her hair and coating her own body. It almost doesn’t appear to be real – how could one body hold such a gargantuan amount of blood inside of it? Frantically searching her brain for any shred of information that will explain what happened the evening before that could have led to this outcome, Cassie finds nothing but a black void.
Thinking quickly, she showers any trace of Alex’s lifeblood from her body and tries to wipe down everything she has touched. She carefully gathers the pieces and shards of a broken bottle that may or may not have been used in his murder, planning to drop it in a random trash can later. She gazes upon his dead body with mixed feelings and a wave of regret. Alex had been kind. Gentle. If even for the one night. Other thoughts cross her mind. Did she do this? Did someone else? What should she do now?
Terrified at the prospect of the consequences of murder in a foreign country known for its swift and unforgiving hammer of justice, Cassie flees the scene and calls upon every ounce of resolve she can muster to relieve herself of the murder weapon and join her flight crew appearing calm and collected. Hiding this is the only way to abscond herself from prosecution and the prospect of being jailed in a foreign country indefinitely. But there are some things you cannot escape, even transcontinentally.
It doesn’t take long for the murder to be discovered, or for the FBI to come knocking on Cassie’s door. Scraping up courage and nudged in the direction of an excellent lawyer by an unexpected ally, the flight attendant begins to cover her tracks. But the ever-reaching grasp of alcohol continues to pull on her, wrapping itself around her body and better judgement like overgrown vines scaling an abandoned garden. She self-sabotages; she cannot stop herself from pathologically lying to everyone. Cassie finds herself becoming obsessed with the man she spent one night with – was Alex a Russian spy? A thief? A murderer himself? Why would someone kill him – execute him – in such a fashion? Is she sure it wasn’t her?
The Flight Attendant is the newest novel from Chris Bohjalian, a New York Times bestselling author known for his mastery of the suspense novel and his thrilling plot lines. But while the opening of this novel was interesting and gripping, I found myself feeling less satisfied as the book progressed. The character of Cassie was one who was very difficult to like, and I found myself wondering at times if the author even liked her himself. She was promiscuous to almost a comical degree, she was self-loathing and spent much of her time in a depressive state, and there was literally nothing redeeming about her whatsoever. As the plot moved ahead, I found myself disliking Cassie more and more, and wondering if the author meant for her to come off quite as stupid as she appeared to be. Her choices were non-sensical, even for a drunk, and not realistic in my opinion. There was a disconnect. In fact, nearly every character seemed out of place and overly manufactured.
As a result, I have to give this book no more than 3 stars. I was disappointed. I was very excited to read a novel by this particular author, as so many of his books have come up in my time as a reviewer, with praise and high recommendations. I don’t know if the plot was just off for me, or if it was something else. The rating on Goodreads is rather high, and I just did not find that it was worthy. The ending was roughly sewn together with next to no closure, and I did not understand the point of the epilogue – nor did it make any sense to me. Given the shameful portrait Bohjalian drew of Cassie, it was unlikely she would have ended up where she indeed ended up.
The writing was well done, as a whole, and I won’t allow one mediocre book to keep me from reading another of Bohjalian’s works. Midwives has been on my TBR list for a while, and I’m hoping it’s better than this novel.
All in all, the most I can say is that I recommend the first quarter of this book. The rest fell apart.