Since moving to Boston I have spent a decent amount of time hanging out in airports, alone. An airport is a strange space – everyone sitting close together, everyone paying a few hundred dollars for the privilege, everyone on a little personal mission to get home or get away.
I flew to and from Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago; my first experience with Christmas travel. The planes were packed, the terminals busy, and everyone was talking. I talked to Dorothy on her way to Pennsylvania to celebrate Christmas with her niece even though she hates traveling in the winter and would have stayed home, but her son insisted, said that he would carry her the whole way there if he had to. At BWI, I listened to two men talk for a half hour, about their jobs, about Michigan and traveling for work and their families at home. Three college students from different Big Football-type schools sat in front of me on my final leg, and talked about Big Football-type things for the entire flight.
Everyone has a little story when they fly, and you feel alright asking a stranger what that story is, because they are in the airport with you so they must have one. Jennifer E. Smith takes this concept to its most romantic possibilities in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Having missed her scheduled flight, Hadley meets Oliver, a fantasy seat-mate for a long flight: cute, chatty, and British. They share their little stories that end up being big ones: Hadley is on her way to London to see her dad for the first time in a year… as he marries her new step-mom, Oliver is returning home from Yale even though he likes it better in the States. Flirtation rises, then the plane lands and they are hustled apart – Hadley has to attend the wedding she is dreading… but will she see Oliver again? Will life ever feel as carefree as when she was with him, in the air?
I am making this book sound much more schmaltzy than it is. The timeline is short, but Smith doesn’t overshoot the Love at First Sight-yness of it all (despite the title); it’s a reasonable amount of attraction. Hadley and Oliver fall in love the way that I love characters in books to fall in love -gradually, with good sense, maybe without realizing. And the third person narration keeps the book from feeling like a drama-fest, full of Hadley’s over-the-top emotions; we, the readers, have just enough distance to allow us to observe when she overreacts without having to roll our eyes too much.
I do wish that the ending had been a bit less frantic, less full of fortuitous Dickens quotes, but hey, when in London, read Dickens, right? Quick, fresh, and fun.