Wednesday, July 17, 2013

REVIEW: The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin


For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century—from the late twenties to the mid-sixties—and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator’s Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage—revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Published January 15th 2013 by Delacorte Press (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN 0345528670 (ISBN13: 9780345528674)

About the Author

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the national bestseller, ALICE I HAVE BEEN, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB, as well as the forthcoming THE AVIATOR'S WIFE, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two sons. She's currently at work on her next historical novel.

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My Thoughts
He is flying.
This is the fictional account of aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow. Anne was the shy sister-- socially awkward and quiet-- when she meet Charles Lindbergh at a family party. In the story, she is shocked to discover that Lindbergh is interested in her, rather than her sister Elizabeth (the sickly yet pretty one that was socially in demand). After a rather sedate courtship, Lindbergh and Anne were married in May 1929.

Soon she is Lindbergh's partner, learning everything she can about flying and soon sharing the workload on the worldwide flights together. Yet this was the 30s, and Anne was simply seen as the wife of Charles Lindbergh, despite her personal accomplishments.
I had just become the first American woman to fly a glider. (p. 94)
I was asked by female reporters how I intended to set up housekeeping in a plane, even as my fingers nervously tapped out practice messages in the Morse code I had been studying for weeks-- Engine failure. Send help. Location unknown. Not once was I queried about my technical skills, even though I was to be the radio operator on this trip. (p. 136)
In 1930, their first son Charles Jr. was born.
Some in Congress suggested his birth be declared a national holiday. (p. 118)
Seriously? Members of Congress were talking about making the baby's birth a national holiday? C'mon!

And, of course, that little baby was quite famously kidnapped for ransom at 20 months of age. Probably the most famous kidnapping in history. (His body was found months later about 4 miles from his home. It is speculated that the kidnapper dropped him when the ladder broke as he carried Charles Jr. down, and the infant died.)

Did you know that Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who headed up the investigation on the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr., was the father of Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf of Desert Storm fame?

I found some of the dialogue to be unrealistic. For example:
"It's just so strange, to think of you like that," Ansy continued, laughing merrily. "I mean-- look at you! You're, well-- you're Mother. Father's the pilot, the hero. You take care of us, and the house, but to think of you up in the air, in your own little airplane!" (p. 283) 
That was supposed to be the 10-year-old daughter Anne speaking to her mother Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Sorry, but that does not sound like any 10-year-old I know. But who knows. Not having kids, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that's what 10-year-olds commonly sound like.

A little personal note: Anne fled to Captiva Island, which is a local island here in town, after her husband won the Pulitzer for his auto-biography and failed to thank her for her help in writing the book, and instead thanked the Wright Brothers.

The author outlined her goal in a note at the end of the book:
...I wanted to make Anne the heroine of her own story, finally-- as in memory (both her written accounts and the public's perception), she is far too often overshadowed by the dominant personality that is Charles Lindbergh. (p. 336)
I think this book succeeded on that point. You find yourself frustrated with the lack of acknowledgement of her accomplishments, since she did some pretty amazing things.
My final word: The book isn't poorly written, isn't horribly boring or filled with drivel. It simply wasn't very exciting, nor did I find it very interesting. I didn't find myself hanging on the book's every word, wondering what would happen next. In fact, it was so forgettable that I didn't think I had finished it, since I couldn't remember anything about the ending. So I picked it up to finish it, and found I recognized everything I was reading, and realized I'd finished this book a month or so ago, and totally forgot it. I thought Lindbergh was really unlikable. I just don't get the public's love affair with him. He was sympathetic to Hitler, and yet they loved him. He could do no wrong. This is one of those books that I would have been happy to have never read, even though I like Melanie Benjamin's writing well enough.
...hatred doesn't require a common language to be understood. (p. 246)
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