Freedom’s Just Another Word: Tiffany Hawk’s ‘Love Me Anyway’

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” Janis Joplin famously sang, and though they are probably too young to know many more of the lyrics than that, I think the two women at the heart of Tiffany Hawk’s delightfully bittersweet novel Love Me Anyway would gamely sing along.

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Love Me Anyway follows two flight attendants in their early twenties.  Emily is serious, describes herself as “mousy,” and has forced herself to grow up too fast. She gets married straight out of high school to a man she doesn’t particularly love and who ends up being abusive both emotionally and physically.

If only, Emily thinks, she could be as fun and free-spirited as her friend and sometime-roommate KC. KC seems to move from one situation to the next effortlessly, loves a party, flirts (and sometimes goes home with) men, and seems to do it all with no regrets. While KC does help Emily recover her inner youth, she doesn’t disclose her own heartbreak  over a terminally ill mother and a father who left the family long ago. She tries to connect with him, but he doesn’t seem at all sorry for the way he left his daughter and wife behind.

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In trying to live up to her friend’s sense of adventure and fun, Emily overcompensates somewhat, becoming involved with a married older man who’s everything her young ex-husband was not. She’s so happy, and he’s so terrific, that the reader hopes his wife back home is a real prude or a pig or some kind of horrible bigot or something. Unfortunately, she’s not, and his beloved children at home are pretty wonderful too. What’s Emily — a good girl at heart who’s finally enjoying herself for the first time — to do?

Is freedom having nothing to lose, or is it just having no regrets?

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I read this book as a “buddy read” with my mom, who’s an avid literary fiction reader. I like to use my mom as a barometer for a book’s general readability, since she reads so widely and is not quite as dark-minded and weird (literarily, I mean!) as I am. She loved Hawk’s novel, and I caught her getting teary at the end. (The final two pages, I can vouch, are simply perfect — opening the book outward to just a wide enough scope that you sit back and know you’ve finished not just a story, but a work.)

My mom called Love Me Anyway a “page turner” and said she connected to Emily and KC. Like a true mom, she “wanted to see them make good choices.” She noticed, where I did not, that the ups and downs of air travel mimicked the characters’ search for love. She was intrigued by the insider’s eye into the world of flight attendants (Hawk writes from experience, having been one herself!) and cited one of her favorite quotes as coming from Emily’s dad: “You just have to let go of the life you wanted in order to live the life you have.”

As for me, I found it refreshing to get a take on one’s twenties that tells it like it is. How many times have you heard people lament that their twenties ended too soon, that those had been the days, all the freedom and possibility? Well, if that were really true, then why’d they ever settle down? My guess is that because, like most everyone else on earth, they felt that something was missing. For Emily and KC, very specific people are missing — parents, lovers — but I think this feeling is common among many young people, and all that freedom comes with a searching, unmoored feeling that can be downright distressing for some people.

Both KC and Emily realize they’ve been flight attendants because they are running from something:

This is the promise of the flight attendant gig. It will quickly fill this hole inside of her with foreign sounds and smells and sights. Day by day, an onslaught of new memories will push out the old.

Interestingly, I think that’s why a lot of people join the military, too. Surely, not everyone joins up because they have nothing left to lose. But aren’t they hoping to lose at least a little bit of something?

Hawk writes her twenty-somethings — early twenty-somethings! — with compassion and complexity and a good twist of wry humor, so that they are fully formed people, not just (Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth anyone?) some idea of carefree and beautiful girls.

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So, this being December 4th, here’s a question: who on your holiday list might enjoy Love Me Anyway?

Maybe that family member who travels a lot and needs a good plane read. That twenty-something who could use a break from the heavy college books, or your sister who’s in the book club, or even your grandma if she’s hip enough. Love Me Anyway has a wide appeal, and if you choose to give this one as a holiday gift you’ll look respectable, smart, literary — and maybe just a little more youthful too. Go on, buy this one. It ain’t exactly free, but it won’t give you any regrets.

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Buy Love Me Anyway here

Tiffany Hawk’s web site

Read Tiffany in The New York Times’s Modern Love

About Tiffany Hawk:

Tiffany Hawk is a former flight attendant with a BA from UCLA and an MFA from UC Riverside. Her debut novel, Love Me Anyway, was published in 2013 by St. Martin’s Press, and her short fiction and personal essays have appeared in such places as The New York Times, The Potomac Review, StoryQuarterly, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She has also worked as travel editor at Coast magazine and as a freelance journalist for publications that include the Los Angeles Times, Sunset, CNN.com, GQ.com, and National Geographic Traveler. Now married to an Air Force pilot and a mother of two, she is a private writing coach and has taught writing workshops at Rutgers University, Southern New Hampshire University, and The Writer’s Center in DC.

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