Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve

I usually like to include at least one thing that I liked about the book in my reviews ... but in this case, I'm coming up a little short. Truthfully, I didn't like very much about The Pilot's Wife. I wanted to like this, have been wanting to read it since Oprah chose it for her book club in March 1999, and I was thrilled to find it at a used book sale someplace. But, the novel falls short in so many places.

The characters are as remote as the landscape where the plane that Jack Lyons is piloting crashes - and perhaps that was intentional (if so, that's well-done). I never felt a connection to anyone in the novel, and I expected to - particularly with Mattie, the daughter, as I understand on a personal level what it is like to lose a father suddenly. Kathryn and Mattie's reactions to the loss of Jack, their husband and father, respectively, are devoid of emotions - and the descriptions of what emotions they do feel are empty. In one scene, Kathryn learns a truly devastating secret about her husband; mere hours later, she claims that she "is over the worst of it."

Plot-wise, this storyline is incredibly predictable and indistinguishable from other movies-of-the-week with similar scenarios. Even the revelation in the most climatic scenes is predictable enough.

Shreve's writing in "The Pilot's Wife" is cliche-ridden and trite. The plane crash that claims the life of her husband occurs mere days before Christmas. When asked how her holiday was, the widow Kathryn responds:
"Sad," she said. "Pathetic. Every minute was pathetic. The
worst was how hard Mattie was trying. As if she owed it to Julia and
me. As if she owed it somehow to her father. I wish now we had
canceled the whole thing."

I know the feeling.

Or Kathryn's exchange with her grandmother upon learning of her husband Jack's death:

"I loved him," Kathryn said.
"I know you did. I know you
did. I loved him, too. We all loved him."
"Why did this happen?"
"Forget the why," Julia said. "There is no why. It doesn't
matter. It doesn't help. It's done and can't be undone."

The Pilot's Wife was written a decade ago and the reader is aware of the absence of the Internet as well as that of cell phones. During the past decade, Anita Shreve has gained a following as a very popular writer. Thankfully, her writing seems to have become stronger with time, leaving the reader with less of a feeling of being on autopilot.

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