Monday, August 18, 2008
The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
I picked up The Pilot's Wife as part of a "stuff a bag with books for $2" at our local library's semi-annual book sale. It was one of a number of once bestselling titles; it has been reviewed on Amazon 999 times! I never seem to read books when they're popular. But five or ten years down the road I might get to them. And when a book says, "Oprah's Book Club" on the front I'm never sure it that's a good thing or not. I feel like too often the books are heavy on plot weightiness (you must be emotionally shocked) and light on depth of reading (any 8th grader could figure out all the words). So, I'm writing a review of a book that got a ton of attention ten years ago.
The Pilot's Wife is a quick read. I don't think an eighth grader would have trouble understanding this book. I started and finished it the same day. Admittedly, it was my last day of child-free vacation so I had almost no interruptions. But nonetheless it is not hard to read. And the story is engaging enough that once picked up, it is hard to put down. At just under 300 pages the book is average length for a novel today.
The plot is not that surprising. A pilot dies when the plane he's flying explodes killing all 104 passengers. There is a mystery surrounding the crash which turns into a mystery surrounding the pilot himself. I don't think anyone will be absolutely shocked to discover what the mystery is. After all, it is a common theme/joke about pilots. And in fact I had a friend whose father-pilot fell into this exact category. That's not what makes Shreve's book good. Instead it is her ability to get inside the mind of the widow as the plot unfolds.
The story alternates the present, beginning with a knock on the door when Kathryn discovers her husband is dead, and the past as Kathryn reflects back on her marriage trying to discover who her husband really is, or was. Shreve's strength is her ability to accurately portray the emotional and internal moments that Kathryn experiences as she begins to understand who her husband was. As a reader I did feel drawn into Kathryn's world and could imagine as a wife and a mother how I would respond if I learned that much of my husband's life was a lie. In that regard, I may have understood the words in the book when I was in eighth grade, but I most assuredly would not have understood the emotional baggage of loss not only of her husband, but as the character explains, a loss of the memories that she had as she discovers that they are not true.
A worthy book to pick up at the library if you haven't read it already.