Ron Carlson

A Kind of Flying

  • This summary of A Kind of Flying includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

A Kind of Flying Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Kind of Flying by Ron Carlson.

A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories is an anthology of short stories by American writer and professor Ron Carlson. An aggregation of works from his first three volumes, the collection provides a longitudinal record of Carlson’s thematic and topical evolution as a writer. Carlson’s stories feature strong-willed characters whose resourcefulness and capacities for good triumph over the difficulty and banality of their ordinary lives. Underneath this ordinariness, Carlson draws out each character’s rich consciousness. The selection has been praised for capturing Carlson’s most idiosyncratic interpretations of modern American life, as well as his mastery of a broad range of genres, from suspense to drama, comedy, and the classic coming-of-age story.

Carlson’s most well-known story in the collection, “The H Street Sledding Record,” pays homage to the great lengths American families will go to preserve the traditions that hold them together. The story profiles a father and husband who painstakingly creates the illusion of Santa Claus each Christmas. He goes so far as to throw horse manure onto the roof of their home, making it look like reindeer have used it as a landing strip. Even with some narrow escapes, his children remain in awe of Santa and the power of Christmas, unaware that the magic behind it is entirely ordinary.

Several of Carlson’s stories refer to the distinctly American myth of Bigfoot, the sentient sasquatch, or “missing link,” said to wander densely forested areas all over North America, as ubiquitous as the UFO. In the story “Bigfoot Stole My Wife,” a husband rationalizes the dissolution of his marriage by taking up the belief that his wife was stolen by Bigfoot. In reality, she left him because she thought he had little to offer her. The husband desperately searches for her, explaining, like an investigative journalist, the events leading up to her disappearance. As he tries to convince both his audience and himself that a supernatural being is responsible for his pain, he signals his deep denial. In the related story, “I am Bigfoot,” Bigfoot gets a turn to speak. In an ironic, improbable twist, Bigfoot reveals that he does indeed steal wives, though he selects the ones who are lonely and discontent with their husbands. The women come to him voluntarily, seeking refuge and relief.

Other stories in A Kind of Flying turn away from Carlson’s signature magical realism but still evolve into incredible scenarios due to their characters’ larger-than-life personalities. In “Ray Bold,” a young man becomes a car thief in order to escape his abusive father. He is imprisoned several times, but each time engineers a creative escape. While going about his transient life, he develops a passion for designing typefaces, hoping one day to invent one that is both clear and suggestive of movement. His search for movement and clarity in his art represents his life goals. At the end of the story, years later, he has finally created such a typeface, which he calls Ray Bold. He graffitis his name wherever he goes in the new font, exhorting his readers to live lives on the run, for it is the only way to undergo transformation.

Recalling the summer of 1967, David tells the final story in the collection, “Oxygen.” In 1967, he left college and started work at the Ayr Oxygen Company in Arizona. He was tasked with delivering cylinders of medical-grade oxygen to individuals around the city of Phoenix. In Scottsdale, he met Elizabeth Rensdale, a college student waiting at home for her father to pass away. In Mesa, he met Gil Benson, a man dying alone. Gil would pull David into lengthy one-sided conversations that always ended in tears when David insisted that he had to leave. David reflects that he always felt terrible depriving Gil of his one social outlet, even though it was not his fault. David and Elizabeth had an affair during the same few months. At the end of the story, David expresses his ambivalence about the possibility of living a moral life, which leads to his own self-forgiveness. A Kind of Flying features many characters in these moral and existential grey areas, ultimately suggesting that these are essential features of modern subjectivity.