Don’t make the same mistake I did and Google Charles Lindbergh before you get very far into The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin. The book follows his biography quite closely, and as someone who doesn’t even like to read the synopsis, I then knew too much of what was going to happen going in.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh becomes the first person to fly across the Atlantic, after years of careful planning and strategizing. He instantly becomes one of the most young, handsome, and famous people in America. The constant attention is not something that Charles can tolerate, and the irritation of it at first quickly progresses to a never-ending torment.
As the Lone Eagle strives to make the beginnings of aviation extraordinary, he decides that he needs a crew and recruits a wife, Anne, to be his co-pilot. She is sturdy yet pliable enough to fulfill all of his wishes. Anne is also unprepared for becoming an instant celebrity, and being in the public eye eventually costs them more than they could imagine.
Character Development and Pacing
The Aviator’s Wife is told from Anne’s point of view, which I think was a good move, since Charles seemed to have a heart made of ice. I don’t think that the author could have turned him into a likeable protagonist. Anne, on the other hand, is brave and determined, even if she is a bit of a pushover where her husband is concerned. She endured everything that she thought that she had to with grace and a smile on her face. Because of this though, I did feel some pity for her.
Anne’s feelings and personal and marital struggles are the focus of The Aviator’s Wife, rather than Lindbergh’s flights, achievements and adventures.
I know that times were different in the 1930’s, but Charles’ “ownership” of his wife and children seems extreme. He was a controlling tyrant who micro-managed the lives of his kids, despite never being around and having no interest in their day-to-day lives. He told Anne what her opinions were, what she believed, and practically how she should think. Anne was naive enough to almost like not having to think for herself, and worshipped the ground that Charles walked on. Even when she didn’t agree with his harsh and oppressive ways (which was often), she defaulted to him as per her duty.
Nor was I exempt; far from it. I had to account for every expenditure, even down to the shoelaces for each pair of tennis shoes and the box of toothpicks in the junk drawer. Naturally, I was expected somehow to intuit the exact hour of his homecoming, even when he failed to tell me; if he walked in the door and I wasn’t there to take his hat and coat, he would berate me for ten minutes before finally remembering to kiss me on the cheek.
With all of the time that Anne was alone, she slowly began to find her own way and become her own person. Her progression from obedient to self-reliant to competent is remarkable to witness.
In the end, The Aviator’s Wife accomplished what it set out to do – it inspired me to want to learn more about both Charles and Anne Lindbergh, their lives and their accomplishments both together and apart.