Friday, February 22, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator’s Wife has been on sale for about a minute in a half and it’s already in its 237th printing. Well, officially it’s in the 6th printing, but that’s a lot of books sold just out of the gate, man!
My second favorite thing about Melanie Benjamin is that she is so adept at choosing smart, strong, interesting women that we know very little about. Her two previous books, Alice I Have Been and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb are perfect examples of fascinating subjects; while you’re reading, you can’t help but make lists of friends that you want to talk about the book with, and if you’re a nice person, perhaps lend the book to your friend.

The Aviator’s Wife is my favorite of the three Benjamin novels that I have read; it’s a true page-turner. To be perfectly honest, when I learned she would be writing about Anne Lindbergh I thought, "This might be less edgy than her two previous books, and maybe just not in my wheelhouse." I sat down to dip in, and the next thing I knew, I was a couple hundred pages in and completely immersed. I actually knew next to nothing about the Lindbergh story, not to mention Anne, so page after page was a revelation. She was a bad ass. She an aviation pioneer in her own right, too (she was the first American woman to earn a glider pilot’s license). Melanie Benjamin does a fantastic job painting a portrait of the insane thirst the public had for anything and everything Lindbergh, especially after their first baby is born. The tension that leads up to the actual kidnapping of baby Charles is perfectly captured. 

Charles and Anne
I won’t comment too much on Charles and Anne’s marriage, which I presumed was a perfect All-American union, but turns out I didn’t know a single thing about their life together and don’t want to ruin it for anyone else. Not wanting to ruin something is a rare thing for me.

Cubs fan
I know you’re dying to know what my first favorite thing about Melanie Benjamin is. Her eyes, the way she dances, the way the moon bounces off her hair? No, my favorite thing about her is that she is a Cubs fan. Its also probably the saddest thing about her. I know it’s the saddest thing about me. Go Cubs….


  1. Oh, we Cubs fans. So sad, yet so pathetically optimistic every year....thank you, Gianna, for a wonderful, generous post!

  2. She really is an amazing writer, and getting better with each book. Her passion for women in history is intense, and addicting for readers like me.

  3. I have spent ten years studying Anne Morrow Lindbergh and give classes and presentations on her life. I would not spend 10 minutes trying to better understand and appreciate the woman depicted in “The Aviator’s Wife.”

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a pioneering aviator, and was given the prestigious Hubbard Medal by National Geographic for her work with Charles in their flights charting routes for Pan Am in the 1930s.She wrote two best-selling books about these trips.

    Mrs. Lindbergh published 13 books. Gift From the Sea, first published in 1955, is still in print. She also wrote numerous articles for various magazines. Perhaps the most revealing book is the one that came out last spring, Against Wind and Tide. Reeve Lindbergh went through 40 years of the most personal and revealing writing of Mrs. Lindbergh. It’s a treasure for all her admirers, and especially for someone who has spent years learning about her.

    Ms. Benjamin treats the Lindberghs with disrespect when she writes that Charles laughed and clapped when Bruno Hauptmann was executed for the kidnapping of Charles, Jr. Charles was a different duck, for sure, but even that would be out of character. Ms. Benjamin described the Lindberghs and their employees through Anne’s thoughts when they were looking for little Charlie the night of the kidnapping. She said, “. . . I had the strangest urge to laugh, for we resembled nothing more than characters in a Marx Brothers movie.” Again, in such a frantic time for such a sensitive and thoughtful person, Mrs. Lindbergh wouldn't be anywhere near a laugh or even a smile, let alone a thought about the Marx Brothers.

    Ms. Benjamin treats some subjects in a laughable manner. She made it appear that the Lindberghs and Amelia Earhart had great disdain for each other; nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, they admired and had great respect for each other. And why characterize it otherwise when the truth is so interesting. (There are dozens of inaccuracies in the book.)

    Ms. Benjamin was likewise flip in occasionally dropping in the names of people who were import to Charles. She also mentions that Charles became the spokesman for America First and describes it as “ . . . that ragtag group . . .” That “ragtag” group included Potter Stewart, Sargent Shriver and Gerald Ford; they were headed by former General Robert Wood, then Chairman of Sears.

    But what about Rilke and St. Exupery, people who were important to her and had a great influence on Anne? They were not mentioned. She loved poetry and would either memorize or read poetry for hours flying with Charles. This notion was not conveyed in the book either.

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a woman of substance -- highly educated, incredibly literate and wonderfully expressive in her writing. In her author’s notes, Ms. Benjamin said that “the inner life can be explored only in novels, not histories -- or even diaries or letters.” Mrs. Lindbergh’s letters and diaries are all about her inner life and they are cohesive and well thought out. I would urge everyone to read the series of now six books of letters and diaries to even begin to understand this woman. I’d rather pursue the remarkable woman Mrs. Lindbergh was in order to learn and understand more about her compelling life than to spend even a minute with the one-dimensional aviator’s wife and the disparaged life portrayed in this book.

    (Much of the research and work I’ve been doing on Mrs. Lindbergh is discussed on my website, -- and on the blog -- ).