The Pilot's Wife
by Anita Shreve
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Imagine hearing knocking in the middle of the night. You think it's a dream, but it's not. You think it's your child. Your husband. Your neighbor. A car accident.

Suddenly you wake up and realize your worst fear. Your child is in bed. Your husband is flying in from London, due home in a few hours. That knocking is at your door. It's not your neighbor, and to a pilot's wife it can only mean one thing.

She flipped on the back-door light and saw, beyond the small panes set into the top of the door, a man.

As she reached for the knob, she thought, Not a burglar, not a rapist. Definitely not a rapist. She opened the door.

"Mrs. Lyons?" he asked.

And then she knew.

This is Kathryn Lyons' story. She opens the door to find she is a widow. Jack, her husband, was the pilot of a plane that went down off the coast of Ireland. One hundred and three lives were lost. There were no survivors.

There's barely any time to grieve. This is a national story and very shortly, reporters will descend on the property looking for any details they can find.

The man at the door is Robert. He is from the pilot's union. His job is to be with the family, handle the press and ask questions. He is a source of comfort, as Kathryn must find the strength to tell her 15 year-old daughter that Jack has died. Mattie doesn't take it well, naturally.

Just as the news of Jack's death sinks in, Kathryn receives horrible news. Based on the cockpit voice recordings, initial investigators think Jack committed suicide, bringing a bomb on the plane that killed everyone on board. Kathryn is forced to evaluate her relationship with Jack. She's adamant that he didn't kill himself and all those aboard, but there are still nagging questions. Mysterious notes, poetry on scraps of paper, highly unusual behavior from a man she thought she knew.

At a time when Kathryn should be rebuilding her life with her daughter, she is forced to find the answers to questions she doesn't want to know. She embarks on a transcontinental journey to find the truth about her husband, her marriage, her life.

The Pilot's Wife ponders the question How well can we ever really know another person?

This is a story of tragedy, love, betrayal and healing. However, it is Kathryn's story alone. We follow her as she learns of her husband's death at the beginning of the story all the way to the interesting conclusion. The events are there, but we learn of them as Kathryn experiences them, not before she does. This makes readers feel the tragedy of death and the healing process as well.

The Pilot's Wife is a compelling tale, despite the depressing subject matter. Kathryn is a bright character. She's intelligent and trusting, which lets the reader accept the fact that she didn't know there was a problem with her marriage. Even Mattie, the daughter, has realistic reactions to the events and Shreve is to be commended for these portrayals.

Overall, I do recommend this book with a few conditions. This is not light vacation reading. The subject is too serious. There is no romance here, so those looking for a good love story will be disappointed. Personally, I didn't care for the conclusion. I didn't like the conflict resolution. However, I feel like it's just personal preference on the basis of the reviewer, so I won't dwell on it. Others might view the ending differently.

That being said, don't be afraid to read The Pilot's Wife. Yes, I know I said the subject matter is depressing, but it is interesting as well. The characters are genuine, and that's hard to find in many of today's books. So read it and be thankful there are still some authors out there that write intelligent novels. Anita Shreve is one of those writers. Enjoy!

Learn More About Anita Shreve

Interview with Anita Shreve

Discussion Questions for "The Pilot's Wife"


"The Pilot's Wife"
was a selection of Oprah's Book Club
Also by Anita Shreve:

All He Ever Wanted

Fortune's Rocks

The Last Time
They Met

Light on Snow

Sea Glass

The Weight of Water