Imagine her amazement that it was she, rather than pretty Elizabeth, who captured the attention of handsome aviator and national hero Charles Lindbergh. In The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin (M) creates a fictionalized biography, or, as she says in the Author’s Note she “imagines the emotional truths” behind the Lindbergh’s marriage.
Charles Lindbergh chose Anne Morrow to be not only his wife, but also his crew. He tested her mettle in early flights and she proved herself when she was exhilarated by a mechanical failure rather than panicked. Lindbergh chose her, an ambassador’s daughter, for her intelligence, her sensibility and the purity of her line. Anne looked at her siblings with their mental and physical weaknesses and was uncomfortable but was also too enamoured of Lindbergh to speak up. So Anne learned to fly, navigate, and manage their domestic affairs from a cockpit. She went instantly from teenager to celebrity, then from mother to tragic figure. The kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr had and profound and lasting effect on Anne, and her controlling husband forbid expressions of grief and insisted that it never be mentioned again. She went on to have five more children, give reluctant public support to her husband’s pro-Nazi and antisemitic beliefs, and eventually become a bestselling author in her own right.
This is a tricky piece of writing to accomplish in a first person narrative style, a mere decade after the subject’s death. It’s important to remember while reading that this is indeed fictionalized – Benjamin has created incidents that never actually happened and imagines emotions to which Anne Morrow Lindbergh never gave public expression. Her novel brings to life the complicated marriage of two complex and layered people. Lindbergh was a man who rose to great heights, figuratively and literally, and disappointed so many with his politics. Anne Morrow Lindbergh blindly obeyed her husband, and as a result accomplished feats no other woman had attempted while also betraying dear friends and herself.
Benjamin has created characters rich and absorbing enough, in my mind, to forgive any poetic license and has accomplished the task she set out for herself, and that is to inspire the reader to discover more about this fascinating woman.
“Susan Hertog pierces the public image of Anne and Charles to reveal their story from inside the marriage and gives us a true understanding of the author of the bestselling classic Gift from the Sea. Hertog plumbs the depths of Anne’s search for her own identity and vision as she struggles to remain faithful to her marriage and to motherhood. This is the story not only of a brilliant writer but also the anatomy of a marriage, the journey of a young bride who overcame the pressures of fame, personal tragedy, and social constraint to find answers that continue to illuminate the lives of women today.” publisher