Jeanette "Astute Crabbist"'s Reviews > The Aviator's Wife

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
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Jan 12, 2014

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bookshelves: all-fiction, america, domestic-and-relationship-fiction, historical-fiction
Read in December, 2012

Rating = 2.5 stars

The Lindberghs had been married for almost 40 years when Tammy Wynette sang "Stand By Your Man" in 1968, but it's a song Anne Morrow Lindbergh could have written about her relationship with aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Givin' all your love to just one man
You'll have bad times, and he'll have good times
Doin' things that you don't understand.

But if you love him you'll forgive him
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him, oh be proud of him
'Cause after all he's just a man...

It's a perfect theme for Anne's 45-year marriage to a difficult, tyrannical man. "Stand by your man, and show the world you love him..." That was Anne's job, showing the world an unshakable facade of a couple united in all opinions. Said opinions were formulated by Charles, who then foisted them upon Anne as part of her wifely duty. She even went so far as to write a pamphlet stating that some form of fascism was "the wave of the future," supporting Charles's isolationist, reputedly pro-Nazi stance on World War II.

Anne Lindbergh narrates her own story in this novel, but Charles inevitably dominates their shared stage. And what a jackass he was. I never knew. The way Melanie Benjamin portrays him makes it tough to understand how Anne could have fallen for him. But she was so besotted with his image as the handsome heroic pilot that she overlooked his personality flaws.

In short, Charles Lindbergh was a cold, distant, bigoted, dictatorial philanderer. Even after all the hell he put her through, Anne wasn't quite willing to let go of her heroic fantasy, choosing to focus on his numerous admirable accomplishments. And yes, he did encourage her in accomplishments of her own, but the message was always clear: "Do well enough to make me look good, but don't forget, I'm the important one."

This novel was a plodder for me, although I do appreciate the bits of history I was able to glean from it. I was especially interested to learn of how the Lindberghs were hounded by the press and other hangers-on. I knew the press had been relentless after what happened to Charles Junior, but I'd been unaware of how they'd been deprived of privacy for most of their married life.

The first part of the book was difficult to get through. Anne's fawning, giddy worship of Charles reads like an unromantic historical romance. It appears that she just could not wait to take up her position as doormat for "Lucky Lindy". After tragedy strikes, Anne has to develop a more mature view of her marriage, and the narrative loses some of that sappy, insecure tone and giddy romantic babble.

The Aviator's Wife is due out in mid-January. I would recommend it for readers of light historical fiction with emphasis on emotions and domestic relationships. Readers with a taste for rich, complex historical fiction are likely to regard it as a light appetizer rather than a sumptuous meal.

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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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Judy Wow! Good review, Jeanette. Anne Lindbergh sounds like quite a lady considering what she lived with.I liked Benjamin's The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel quite a bit. Do you think I would like this one?

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Thanks, Judy! She really was quite a remarkable lady, and it's too bad she couldn't have lived in a more enlightened time for women. If you've already found that you like Benjamin's prose, you'll probably like this one. Her prose style is not my favorite, but I liked the story. You'll have to exercise some patience early in the novel, though. There's a lot of gushy emotion and exclamations and such. Kinda barfy for me, but it gets better.

message 3: by Mikki (new)

Mikki Wow, never knew her back story so thank you for bringing it to light. I'm going to see if I can find something that is nonfiction since I'm not a real fan of historical-fiction. Did this book place more focus on the happenings after the kidnapping or before?

message 4: by Mikki (new)

Mikki Thank you, Chelsea, I did as you suggested and was able to come up with a few choices including a biography written by one of her other children.

message 5: by Caroline (new)

Caroline A great review, and I loved your comment to Judy, especially There's a lot of gushy emotion and exclamations and such. Kinda barfy for me, but it gets better. Ha ha ha, we need to steer away from that which is kinda barfy!

Thought the introduction of Tammy Wynette's song was excellent too.

I do not get on well with masochistic women. The second Mrs de Winters in Rebecca drove me nuts for most of the book, and Mrs Lindbergh ain't going to fare any better.

I learnt a lot from your review though, and that was a real pleasure :-)

Judy Thanks, Jeanette. I will be on the lookout for it and keep my barf tray handy during the first part of the book. :-)

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" @Mikki: The kidnapping sits smack dab in the middle of the novel, so the first half covers 1927 through 1932, with the second half going all the way to 1974. So I guess more time is given to that first five years. She skips over large chunks of time, often 4 or 5 years at a time, which is why I say it's light historical fiction. When I get a chance, I'll post an addendum on my review listing the author's sources, so you can find a good nonfiction option.

@Chelsea: Melanie Benjamin points out in her Author's Note that before he died, Charles heavily edited Anne's diaries in order to make himself look good, so it makes me wonder what was left out.

@Caroline: You make me laugh. :-D) One must be ever vigilant against the forces of barfiness, especially in literature.
Mrs. De Winters II was definitely masochistic, and the whole thing was so ridiculous because she put herself through hell for want of simply asking the right questions rather than making assumptions.

message 8: by Mikki (new)

Mikki Agreed

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Well, he had seven children by three other women while he was married to Anne, so yeah, a right bastard he was.

message 10: by Judy (last edited Dec 17, 2012 05:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy Part of me would like to pull my hair out over Anne Lindbergh's idolization of a jerk, but the other part of me knows that my parent's generation was the same way. Frustrating, but that was how they thought it was supposed to be. It sounds like a book that I will have to read with my Stress Relief tea handy! But, all the same, I have wanted to read something about Lindbergh after reading the alternative history book by ?Philip Roth? where he is President.

message 11: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Jeanette wrote: "@Caroline: You make me laugh. :-D) One must be ever vigilant against the forces of barfiness, especially in literature.
Mrs. De Winters II was definitely masochistic, and the whole thing was so ridiculous because she put herself through hell for want of simply asking the right questions rather than making assumptions....

Yes indeed....

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Yes, Judy, it does get exasperating reading about what she put up with. Had it not been based on real people I probably wouldn't have finished it. And what's really frustrating is that Anne came from a wealthy family and had a good trust fund, so she didn't even need Charles for support. She could have left him and done just fine on her own. But she was born in 1906, and the world was a different place for women.

message 13: by Jill (new)

Jill I just got sent this book from the publisher. Yikes!

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" I'll be interested in what you think of the prose, Jill. It's in a category I think of as "serviceable but uninspiring." But you are more generous than I, so we'll see.

message 15: by Jill (new)

Jill ...but remember, I rarely keep reading any book that's less than 4 stars, which is why it appears that I rate so highly. You know I respect you as a reviewer, which is why I sat up and took notice when you rated 2.5!

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" The 2.5 is in large part owing to the first part of the novel, which I mentioned to Judy in msg 2 above. I almost gave up several times in that part of the book, but I kept going because I was interested enough in the Lindberghs.

Michele Having read (and loved) Gift from the Sea many times, I'm intrigued by this novel. Taking into account the sappy prose, adding it to my To Read list. Thank you, Jeannette!

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Oh, Michele, you might love it, and you might not think the prose sappy. I've been surprised at the people who have favorably reviewed this one. I hope you enjoy it.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Looking at it with a few months' perspective, I'm thinking I should have rounded down rather than up. Sometimes I'm too generous in making allowances for my picky snobbery. I'm surprised at the high average rating for this one.

Dorothy Now that I've read the novel, I want to read the biographies. The theme of understanding your husband's dark side reminded me of a main character in "And Ladies of the Club", coincidentally named Anne as well.

Cindy Your review stately so well exactly how I felt about this historical novel...a little too sappy and melodramatic for me, but I enjoyed learning about the historical parts of her life.

message 22: by Anna (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anna One thing that is cool--Gift from the Sea is still in print; I will see it out in a special display at my wonderful local bookstore. I love that book, think she was a great writer, and we are still talking about HER all these years later, whatever is in the history books. Anne 1 Charles 0.5

Christine Ward "Serviceable but uninspiring" - yes. Even as a beach read, I found myself rolling my eyes at the language & at Anne's POV. Throwaway fiction, IMO.

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