Strength and clarity

The Aviator’s Wife (NetGalley)
Melanie Benjamin

I was Mom. I was Wife. I was Tragedy. I was Pilot. They all were me, and I, them. That was a fate we could not escape, we women; we would always be called upon by other in a way men simply never were. But weren’t we always, first and foremost–woman? Wasn’t there strength in that, victory, clarity … 

I’ve read my tattered copy of Gift from the Sea too many times to count and have given the book as a gift just as often to friends who were navigating life’s rough seas. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book of short essays attempts to unlock the puzzle that it is to be an independent woman, yet still wife and mother. And when I worked at the bookstore, I read War Without & Within and Locked Rooms Open Doors–eager, as is the rest of the world, to find out more about the famous kidnapping. Lindbergh’s writing is sometimes raw, sometimes tender, always insightful.

So when I began Melanie Benjamin’s recently published novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, I was guardedly optimistic that Lindbergh’s fictionalized voice would ring true. And while I have plenty of questions about the veracity of some of the scenes and events, the novel was compelling enough for me. Benjamin begins with Anne Morrow’s college years–the years she met and fell in love with Charles–then alternates chapters of the Lindbergh’s life together with the last days of his life. Anne Morrow is accurately presented as sensitive, shy and full of self-doubt, and Charles, her alter ego–brash, confident, and definitely not given to introspection. They are America’s darlings of the air during the pioneering days of early long-distance flight, yet the public’s invasion of their privacy was horrific: photographers hounding them on their honeymoon, odd admirers showing up at their door at all hours– some even, after the kidnapping, offering the couple their own children. The couple felt so threatened that Charles took to wearing a sidearm when he answered the door.

Benjamin’s Anne begins to question Lindbergh’s control early in her marriage, and the kidnapping gives her more insight into his emotional life–or lack of it. Yet she, like so many women then and now, feels powerless to resist him. It was only when she reached middle age and they began to drift apart that Anne Morrow Lindbergh felt she had the distance and freedom (and perhaps wisdom) to examine her life. And so The Gift from the Sea was born. The Lindbergh’s later years were spent pretty much apart and both took lovers. Charles Lindbergh (how I missed this gossip, I’ll never know) fathered several children with two or three other women. Their life together, once so public, was shrouded in secrets.

I have no idea whether or not some of Benjamin’s conjectures are true or not–that Anne Morrow’s sister was gay or that Anne Morrow Lindbergh danced the night away at the White House, doing the Monkey with Buzz Aldrin. But she rekindled my interest and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading Susan Hertog’s biography and following the Lindberghs a little bit longer.

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