Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book Review - The Aviator's Wife - By Phil Baker

The Aviator’s Wife, 402 pages, available at the Windham Public Library, was published by Delacorte Press in 2013. In this intriguing historical novel, author Melanie Benjamin uses flight as metaphor, not for life or fame, ambition or achievement, but for disconnectedness, abandonment and earthly detachment.

This is the story of the famous yet tortured marriage of Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh, a marriage of earth and sky. Dark-haired Anne’s earthy tones contrast Charles’s blue eyes, fair skin and yellow hair. He is the sky his name became synonymous with in 1927 with his historic trans-Atlantic flight. The marriage appears first like the light where earth meets sky at dawn then transforms to a sunset of sterile coexistence.

Benjamin’s premise is to present a fictionalized account of factual events, in this case the charmed celebrity marriage that turns to a disillusioned partnership of convenience. She uses documented fact as stage and props then animates this history with imagined reaction, emotion and dreams of her principle character, the aviator’s wife.

Mrs. Lindbergh is challenged at every turn being married to a national hero who becomes a living, but tremendously flawed, monument. The turning point for the couple is the kidnap and murder of their 20-month-old baby, Charles Junior. The crime opens fissures in the marriage as Charles and Anne deal separately with the tragedy. Charles turns away from Anne depriving both of the comfort a partnership should provide.

Later, Charles flies too close to a terrible source of energy. He harbors an unfortunate admiration for Hitler. There is little doubt of Charles’s anti-Semitism according to Benjamin. During the war Henry Ford hires Lindbergh for his considerable expertise in aeronautical manufacture, saving him from a complete fall from grace. This begins a troubling and repeated disappearance from his family, home and wife. Anne is left to her own devices keeping her and the children rooted to the earth Charles has eschewed.

Benjamin presents her faction with an admirable literary style. Her use of simile and metaphor is done with graceful economy. She forms analogy within text so adeptly that the reader profits without the need to fuss over the comparative. However, ambiguity resides in the facts around Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism and Mrs. Lindbergh’s support of his views. Benjamin damns Lindbergh and comes off an apologist for Anne. On the whole this is a beautifully written book; but where history meets fiction, as where Lindbergh’s sky meets the Atlantic, the horizon may blur.

Baker lives in Windham with his family and their dogs.

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