Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

It is 1974, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her children have brought Charles Lindbergh, Lucky Lindy, home to die.  As Anne sits with him in his final days, she reflects back on their lives and what sharing a lifetime with such a famous man has been like.  Anne is a senior at Smith College when they meet, while Lindbergh has already completed the solo transatlantic flight from the United States to Paris that made him a hero wherever he goes.  He takes her flying, and she instantly adores the sensation.  She can't believe that such a man has chosen her as his wife, and agrees, unable to believe her luck.  Anne feels she is living a fairy tale.

But there is a dark side to hero worship.  The couple is mobbed wherever they go, the photographers and reporters fighting to get an inch closer, to get their shouted questions answered.  They print every detail of the Lindbergh's lives that they can discover.  When the couple's toddler son, Charles Junior, is kidnapped and killed, the press is unbearable.  Anne can't help but feel that they played a part in the tragedy by singling them out and reporting every detail of their lives.

Anne comes to realise that life with Charles is on his terms.  He is the bravest man she has ever met, and he has an unerring sense that he is always right.  Distant emotionally, he plans every minute of his day and expects to plan Anne's also.  She is his co-pilot and navigator in those early years, leaving behind her babies whenever he wants her to.  As the years go on, she begins to resent his assumption that he and only he knows best in every situation.

Yet Anne stays with him loyally, unable to imagine a life without this man she loves.  She sticks with him during the war years, when his hero's mantle is tarnished by his campaign to keep America out of the war, and by his statements that make him appear anti-Semitic.  She stays during the war when Charles finally gets involved and leaves her alone to manage the household and children.  She stays during the long years after when he stays away for long stretches, leaving her to raise the family while he attends to business.  Anne learns to carve out a life on her own terms, with writing as her saving grace.

Melanie Benjamin has done a masterful job with this novel.  Most readers will learn many things they didn't know about the Lindberghs, who will always be defined by his heroic flight and the kidnapping that was one of the first nationally reported crimes.  I didn't know Anne was a pilot in her own right, or that after Charlie's death, they went on to have five other children.  This is an interesting book sure to catch the interest of any reader.  It is recommended for all readers.

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