The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

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Audiobook narrated by Lorna Raver

Women in history have gotten up to some pretty amazing things, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh is no different. She was educated, brave, daring, worthy of attention in her own right. But her achievements have all but fallen by the wayside, eclipsed by the shadow of her larger-than-life husband. His achievements are the ones we remember, the ones we are taught in school. In The Aviator’s Wife, however, Melanie Benjamin seeks to give voice to a woman whose guts and gumption not even her husband could match.

Benjamin’s work is one of historical fiction, largely biographical but fictionally personal. She seeks to lend a new perspective to the story of Charles Lindbergh, or “Lucky Lindy” as he is so often called. We see, through Anne’s eyes, a new perspective on the events of their lives, what it was like to be an early celebrity always in the spotlight, what it was like to have a child kidnapped and to have the whole experience chronicled by American media, what it was like to be married to someone who is emotionally unavailable. In some respects, these experiences are unfamiliar. Most of us will never know what it’s like to have the spotlight ever on us, watching every move, marking every fault and bad decision. In other respects, though, Anne’s story is one that’s been echoed by women across generations. She struggles with who she is (mother, wife, aviatrix, writer, lover) and who she wants to be. She questions whether she can wear so many hats all at once, whether anyone will ever remember her as anything other than “Charles Lindbergh’s wife.” In this way, Benjamin is able to capture the universality of some experiences, showing us that humanity is inescapable, regardless of the historical setting or the social context of our situations.

While the idea of having this new perspective is thrilling in some ways, making these historical figures more real to those of us who remember them only through textbooks, the unreliability of the narrator is a factor here, and at times readers may find themselves prompting a reminder that this account is fiction, even though it is based on real events and people.

For all its relevance to female life, some readers may find themselves frustrated with Anne’s apparent lack of backbone in the story when it comes to her relationship with her husband. She realizes fairly early on in their marriage that theirs is not one of equality and romance, and according to her narrative voice, she is at least somewhat bitter towards Charles throughout their whole marriage. But she never does anything about it, at least not in a way that Charles ever knows about. Call it the convention of the time, call it weakness, but Anne’s lack of backbone where her husband is concerned is nothing short of frustrating throughout the narrative.

Terminal Notes: Readers will be entertained by this version of Anne’s story, despite some unreliability and the tenuous relationship between reader and protagonist. While Anne’s inability to stand up to her husband in any real way is frustrating, she is also a surprisingly sympathetic character whose life is as worthy of consideration as her husband’s, albeit for different reasons.

The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe

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Reading this book was a bit like watching someone trying to fly a kite for the first time: every now and then, a promising burst of energy wafts the story upwards creating intrigue and forward movement, but then just as quickly, the energy abandons the book, leaving the reader to reconcile the subplots to the main plot.

Speaking of which, the main plot in the book is excellent, an adept use of magical realism that is not intrusive. In fact, the magic in the book seems, for all intents and purposes, somewhat feasible. The momentum in Sibyl’s story (when considered independently from the rest of the text) is very fluid, and Howe makes excellent use of the cliffhanger device at the end of Sibyl’s sections.

The bits in the middle, though, are somewhat problematic. Their connection to the main plot is not often obvious, and quite often the reader is left to make the connection between the stories for him/herself, leaving much room for misinterpretation. Take, for example, Eulah’s and Helen’s experience aboard the Titanic. While it’s not often advisable to spell out everything for a reader, clarification is sometimes necessary, and that clarification is not obvious in the last section aboard the Titanic.

Despite its tangents, the book maintains its focus, or rather its controlled lack of it, with the help of the time period in which the story is set. On the heels of Titanic’s sinking and on the cusp of US entrance into WWI, the feeling of being out of control, something with which Sibyl seems to struggle, is genuinely realistic and perhaps lends itself as an excuse for some of the more problematic subplots in the story.

The House of Velvet and Glass will, for the most part, keep readers entertained despite some false starts and superfluous subplots (EX: Harlan’s experience with Rawlings), and readers will not be disappointed with the overall story.