November 19, 2014

November 19, 2014

Things I’ve Read: The Aviator’s Wife

A recent trivia night reminded me that Time magazine’s very first Person of the Year was not Einstein or Hitler, the personal computer or an oily Kardashian. It was, in fact, one Charles Lindbergh, known primarily for flying across the ocean blue back when flight involved strapping yourself to a paper box and hoping for the best.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a huge accomplishment. Lindbergh probably did more for aviation than almost anybody, particularly in transforming aviation from neato curiosity to legitimate industry. So rah rah and all that.

Some things Lindbergh was less known for: his secret families. That’s right: plural. Only recently was it revealed that he fathered seven children with three different women in Europe. You know that trope about the airline pilot with a family in every city? Exactly.

The Aviator’s Wife tells the story from the point of view of Anne Morrow (later Lindbergh). Flash forwards aside, it runs from just before she meets Charles through to his death in the 1970s. While he is (understandably) the book’s prime mover, it turns out that Anne was pretty amazing in her own right. The unassuming second daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico went on to become the first licensed female glider pilot*, her husband’s faithful navigator, and (less happily) the mother of the Lindbergh baby.

It’s that kidnapping fiasco that proves to be the watershed moment in their lives. (I’m not a mother, but I’m assuming the parents out there are knowingly nodding their heads.) Charles, like many Great People, was difficult to live with—selfish, cold, convinced he was always right—and his “my way or the highway” attitude didn’t exactly help the investigation. Even as Anne went on to have other kids, she never quite got over the death of her first one.

I originally thought this book was by the same author as The Paris Wife, a novelization of the life of Hadley Richardson, wife of Ernest Hemingway. I mean, look at the covers:

But this turns out to be a wholly separate tale. They say there’s a woman behind each great man. But with Lindbergh, Hemingway, and so many other cases, it’s more that there’s a man in front of each great woman.

* Amelia Earhart is referred to occasionally, but almost always as simply “The Aviatrix.” Anne was not a fan. It’s like The Real Housewives of Early Aviation.