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Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

10 Dec

Coming down the home stretch! I’ve got 21 more days to go and four more books to finish! Expect a good number of book reviews in the next few weeks.

Cover Image from

Cover Image from

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

This book was recommended to me by one of my supervisors at work. She said she really loved it and I put it on my list, figuring that I would get to it eventually. Well, it’s eventually. I almost read this sooner, but I’d just finished The Paris Wife and I needed a change of pace. I listened to this title on audiobook from the local library.

Anne Morrow was an ambassador’s daughter before she was the aviator’s wife. It was in Mexico City, visiting her dignitary father that she first met Colonel Charles Lindbergh. Seeing in Anne the co-pilot he’s been searching for, Charles doesn’t forget her and their quick romance is filled with airplanes and the wide open sky. Anne jumps into Charles’ world with two feet, earning her pilot’s license and learning to operate a glider. ‘The First Couple of the Sky’ is America’s favorite and the media attention can only be avoided when they’re together in the air. When their first child, Charles Jr., is born, the two don’t slow down. They seem to be away from their child more than with him and the couple finally buys their own house to settle down in and be a family. When tragedy strikes and their son is kidnapped, the results will break Charles and leave Anne grieving alone for the son she never really got to know. As her five other children grow and leave, Anne finds her self more and more alone as Charles leaves for war, conferences, and meetings. No one could accompany the lone eagle forever.

I tried not to, but I found myself comparing this book the The Paris Wife while I read it. Between the two, I’d say I liked Benjamin’s book better. They both focus on the wives of famous men from the 1920s and how the men outshone their wives in every way possible. I found Anne a stronger and more likeable character than Hadley and I’m glad I’m ending my foyer into 20s wives on a strong note.

This book, more than anything, made me dislike Charles Lindbergh. He’s portrayed as controlling, manipulative, and very arrogant. His anti-Semitic tendencies were enough to make me dislike him, but forcing Anne to publish a book where she explained that she agreed with him was abhorrent. A man who would father seven children out of wedlock is not a very likeable character in any book. (According to Wikipedia, this is true. It’s not known if Anne was aware.)

Anne’s journey is to find herself an identity that is separate from Charles’s. She wants to be known as more than the Aviator’s wife and starts this by being an author. Anne studied English in school and always wanted to write. She ghost-wrote for Charles but wanted her own turn at the page. Her book was successful, maybe only slightly bolstered by her husband’s fame. After the youngest, Reeve, left home, Anne got her own apartment and her own friends. She became known among them as the writer of the group and relished in this identity. She had flirtations, one even more than a flirtation, and felt that finally she was her own woman. This was only solidified when she denied Charles the absolution he wanted regarding the European children. It took until her husband’s death, but Anne finally stepped from Charles’ shadow.

Besides his flight, the one thing people always remember about Lindbergh is the kidnapping. There was an afterward in the copy I had that Benjamin had written and she said that the Lindberghs have been affected more by the media than any other people alive, perhaps excluding Princess Diana. Their loss was so public and the search so wide spread that it took on a life of its own. They way its described in Benjamin’s book almost broke my heart to see the unusual struggle that the two had to go through because of their celebrity status. The writing really made me feel for the Lindberghs.

Writer’s Takeaway: I said at the beginning that I enjoyed this book more than The Paris Wife and I think I’ve deduced why. Hadley was a very unlikeable character while I was rooting for Anne the whole time. Hadley wasn’t to focus of her own story, Ernest was always the focus. The story ended with a change in Ernest, not Hadley. Anne’s story was wholly her own with a character arc not defined by Charles. I think this highlights a good lesson for writers. Our characters need to be more than a set of eyes. They can see someone else’s story, but they have to have their own as well. In The Great Gatsby, Nick is watching Gatsby’s story, but he is his own character and he is dynamic. When the protagonist and narrator are different people, one must make sure both change.

Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.