Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Aviator's Wife

Author: Melanie Benjamin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
To Be Published: January 25, 2013
First Line: "He is flying."

Publisher's Description: 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.

My Thoughts: I picked up this Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) on NetGalley based solely on the subject of the book: Charles Lindburgh.  I'm a sucker for historical fiction and I love learning more about historical figures that I know little about.  Charles Lindburgh and his wife Anne fall into this category.

While I loved the era in which this book was written I will admit that the book kept me feeling frustrated throughout due to Anne's character.  Anne came from a very successful and privileged family - her father was a US ambassador, her mother was an independent woman.  Anne was well educated and had the world at her feet.  Then Charles Lindburgh enters the scene, the young pilot who had just made history by flying solo across the Atlantic.  He was a huge star of the time -- I'm talking Jennifer Aniston/Justin Beiber famous -- with the media constantly hounding him.  One would think that this media attention would go to his head ... and it did, big time. 

Charles Lindburgh, aka 'Lucky Lindy' was portrayed in this book as a god.  Everyone, including politicians, famous actors, presidents, average Joe on the street and even Anne, was willing to overlook his major personality flaws just because he was "Lucky Lindy".  This book portrays Charles as nothing more than a emotionally bereft, power hungry, philandering bigot who bullied those around him to get what he wanted.  Not a nice image of the Golden Boy.

This assessment of Charles then caused me to be confused as to why anyone would fall in love with him let alone stay with him for 45 years?   Their relationship, in my opinion was smothering and depressing at best.  Anne was besotted with him in the early days due to his achievement but afterwards why did she stay with him? 

I realize that Anne lived in a much different time than I do. 1929 is no 2013 but at the same time I feel that the author pushed the imbalance between Anne and Charles so much so that it almost became too much for me.  Anne was raised in a privileged family with an independent mother and sister and an ambassador father. Why is she so docile and willing to accept anything out of her husband's mouth without even questioning it?

Still, there is a quote in the book which sums up her relationship with Charles -- "He led, I followed, and that meant I had to keep up with him."  Their relationship was always about him and even though he did encourage her to become a pilot/navigator it was always in order to advance his career or public image. 

He told her what to think and what to say.   He even managed to get her to write a pamphlet supporting the Nazi regime! She was an educated, articulate woman who, with her socio-economic background, could have done anything. And yet as soon as she meets Lindburgh she forgets who she is and follows Charles around like a lost puppy willing to get beaten down just to get a minute of his attention.  His verbal/emotional abuse of Anne got to me quickly.

I guess I was expecting more of a book about how Anne learned to get out of the shadow of her husband's fame and eventually finds her own identity.  The problem here is that Anne never really learns that.  She's stagnant and except for one instance that pops into my mind she never stands up to Charles or learns anything about herself.  She spends a lot of the book bemoaning how she doesn't feel worthy of Charles' love and complaining about how Charles treats her and the children.  But as soon as he shows up on her doorstep all is forgotten and forgiven because the Golden Boy is in her midst.  I just couldn't buy into that kind of a 'love'.

If the author's goal was to create a book that stirred emotions then she hit the nail on the head.  Throughout the book I felt frustrated with Anne and angry at Charles' pompous attitude and how his work always came first, even above his children.  He was a very detached person and that was even more evident with how he handled his son's infamous abduction.

Overall, I found this book a good read but a little slow.  The highlight of this book for me was learning more about the 1920's era and getting a better understanding of the Lindburgh family.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

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