Jack has a tendency to think too much, which is why, at the opening of Emil Ostrovski’s debut novel, The Paradox of Vertical Flight, he’s sent into a spiral of near-suicidal despair prompted by something as seemingly harmless as his friends’ Facebook birthday wishes. It’s shaping up to be Jack’s worst birthday ever, and maybe his last—until he gets a phone call from the last person he ever would have expected.

Jack’s ex-girlfriend Jess is in the hospital, where she’s just given birth to a baby boy—Jack’s son. She’s planning to give the baby up for adoption, but as soon as Jack sees the baby, he knows he’s not ready to say goodbye. Instead of turning him over to the adoptive parents, Jack takes his newborn son, whom he’s named Socrates, and hits the road. Soon he and Socrates—along with Jack’s best friend Tommy and, eventually, Jess—are heading from Maine to New York to see Jack’s dying grandmother.

Along the way, Jack and his baby son engage in Socratic dialogue, in which baby Socrates’ (imaginary) questions prompt Jack to investigate his notions of happiness, success and life itself. Despite the fact that their journey culminates in several kinds of goodbyes, Jack manages to wrest a kind of hope from their situation: “The world’s so fragile, and we’re all so clumsy. But maybe Socrates will be more sure-footed than me. That’s worth believing in.”

The Paradox of Vertical Flight might not give readers a real introduction to the classical philosophers, but its thoughtful, often funny approach to philosophy may just inspire readers to ask their own deep questions and seek their own profound answers.

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