Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

About a month ago, I picked up The Aviator's Wife from the shelves that house the recently returned items at the library for which I work.  This morning I finally finished the novel.  It was the fourth or fifth time the book had been on the returned shelf, a good sign, and since I have been leisurely working my way through Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, I thought it would be fun to read an author's interpretation of the relationship between Charles Lindbergh and his wife.  I really didn't know much about either icon before reading this, so I enjoyed the little history lesson Melanie Benjamin provided.  It was an easy read with a touching ending.

To put it bluntly, however, this book was an overall disappointment.  Having read over half of Gift from the Sea, I was upset to find Benjamin's portrayal of Anne Morrow Lindbergh as a weak, submissive wife throughout the entire novel.  After reading the author's notes, I realized that belittling Anne and making her Charles' well-trained puppy was not even Benjamin's intentions.  She meant to show the world the strong, resilient Anne who made the Lindberghs the lovable couple many people remember them as now.  Benjamin failed at this goal.  It was hard to plow through the middle half of the book because the poor heroine was a broken record in her thoughts and actions, so you become bored and irritated with the mousy housewife who is herself bored and lonely with a total lack of confidence.  Instead of emphasizing her bravery, as the author's notes claim was the purpose, Benjamin makes every courageous act something Anne had no choice in and would never have done without Charles' insistence, such as becoming the first American woman to pilot a glider plane.  The novel only mentions one of Anne Lindbergh's works, Gift from the Sea, and makes it seem that it was written mainly to get back at Charles for writing a well-received memoir of his famous Paris flight.  Benjamin did emphasize Anne's exceptional aviation skills and years as co-pilot to her husband, which was truly an accomplishment, but the author entirely underplays Anne's literary career, mostly by ignoring it.

The "Anne" in Gift from the Sea is a calm, wise beacon of inspiration for women both then and now.  Benjamin's "Anne" is a vessel of wasted talent and potential, at the beck and call of the famous aviation hero.  It was painful to have someone as admirable as Anne Morrow Lindbergh portrayed in such a way.

If you want to learn about the Lindberghs, I would suggest reading Anne's diaries, Gift from the Sea or Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis and come to your own conclusions about the couple's extraordinary lives and relationship.

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