Amber's Reviews > The Pilot's Wife

The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
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Dec 27, 11

Read in December, 2011

** spoiler alert ** This book is about love and loss, shown emotionally through the eyes of a wife, and metaphorically paralleled with the idea of flight and nature.

The story starts out right away with the death of a husband, who is a pilot. What unravels is the beginnings of his true identity-one that Kathryn uncovers, but not fully. The story is told from her perspective, which makes perfect sense, because she is the one who is dealing with the results of an untruthful husband. (I was about to say "unfaithful", but actually, quite the contrary is true. He is faithful to both wives, despite how immoral it seems.) Kathryn has flash backs throughout the book, which give us glimpses into the couple's relationship, and acts as foreshadowing for the entire story.

One flashback in particular is about a time when Jack, the husband, takes Kathryn for a plane ride. The chapter is not long at all, but necessary to the story. He takes her up and he takes them into a "long, high loop, and for a second, at its apex, they are motionless, upside down, a speck suspended over the Atlantic. The plane dives then into another run out the other side of the loop. She screams and grabs for whatever she can reach...It amazes her that a man can make a plane do tricks--tricks with gravity, with physics, with fate." Jack ultimately HAS done tricks with HIS fate, Her fate, their daughter's fate, AND the fate of his other European family. Kathryn was thrilled by the experience in the plane, and she is "thrilled", to an extent, by the unraveling of Jack's life- the life she never knew about.

When Kathryn flies to meet her husband's other wife, she thinks that "flight itself still felt wrong". She is scared. She is a woman who wants to KNOW, and at the same time, is terrified of it.
She knew that she was "flying toward morning", that things would be OK in the end, but she had to withstand the waiting and hovering in the air. She also knew that "when Jack had died, he'd flown into darkness, as if he were outrunning the sun." His actions had led him straight ahead into the terrible plane crash.

The presence of the ocean parallels the ups and downs that Kathryn experiences. They live on the beach and it is a familiar place for her, but it is also dangerous and unpredictable, as is life. Kathryn ran from the news people by hopping down to the shore of the beach, where she "hopped onto a stone the size of a bathtub, felt herself slipping, then sensed that the only way to stay upright was to keep moving." What can a person do but keep moving in a situation like this? She talks of "how treacherous the ocean is, how quickly it can snatch a person...One minute your life is normal, the next it isn't."


Anita Shreve does a great job using nature as a metaphore throughout the book. Julia (Kathryn's grandmother) and Kathryn have a conversation about the whole plane crash, and she is looking at "the rising snow line on the outside windowsill." Julia tells Kathryn not to lose her faith, then adds that they have "revised the forecast...ten to twelve" rather than the smaller amount they had called for earlier in the day. Kathryn was getting more than she was expecting. At the end of the book, as Kathryn drove out to the crash site, she noticed how the "land grew rugged, wilder, with long vistas of cliff and jagged rock"; a sign of what she was presently going through. The road was narrow and she passed many dilapidated cottages, but toward the end, "knowing her destination was not far", she noticed tufts of grass, "an emerald green even in the dead of winter." Even though it WAS winter, it would not last forever and she thought when she passed a laundery line that it WAS "good drying weather."

As Kathryn goes through her healing process and her self discovery, she learns that she has to move on. There will be days where she is overwhelmed by memories. As she was traveling, her scarf, the one Jack had given to her for her birthday, began to unravel. At first she thought she'd fix it when she got home, but then kept pulling at the loose end. She kept tugging, feeling the "stuttering of the tiny knots" give way. She unraveled one row and then another. Then another and another." The mound of yarn fell to her feet. She knew she'd have to "recast all her memories now." That's when I knew she'd be alright.
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