Review: The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve

Read: 2
To Go: 98

Book List:
1. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
2. The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve

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I guess my vacation from books lasted a little longer than I expected. December really tuckered me out, so after speed-reading The Reader, I took a little more than a week off (feeling guilty the whole time) before I finished The Pilot’s Wife. It’s a book I had wanted to read for a while; I’d see it in Chapters almost every time I went, but never remembered to buy it when I had money. It was one of the books my dad bought me from the Barrie public library’s used book store, and it cost 50 cents. Score!

When Kathryn Lyons opens her door to Robert Hart in the middle of the night, all the pilot’s union rep has to do is say her name for her to know what happened: her pilot husband, Jack, died in the air just off the coast of Ireland. While she and her daughter Mattie try to deal with their grief, surrounded by a maelstrom of publicity, Kathryn starts to learn, one startling blow at a time, that her husband was leading a double life, causing her to question how well we can ever truly know another person.

The Pilot’s Wife was a compelling read from start to finish, both as a portrait of grief and as a mystery. The pacing was fantastic; Shreve dropped hints throughout the story, enough to make the reader wonder without the outcome being too obvious. The final reveal about Jack’s double life comes like a smack in the face — bold, and utterly surprising.

Kathryn and Mattie’s attempts to come to terms with Jack’s death present two very different ways of coping with the loss of a loved one. Kathryn’s sorrow is vivid and flares up at the slightest provocation, whereas Mattie completely shuts herself off, cocooning herself in sleep and a surly disposition. The rare occasions that Mattie lets her mother in make for some of the novel’s sweetest scenes.

What disturbed me, more than anything, was the novel’s central question, asked by Kathryn’s daughter: how well can we know another person? Kathryn makes an observation that people are like puzzles, which you start to put together as you learn more about them. As her friendship develops with Robert Hart, she starts inserting mental “puzzle pieces” into her perception of him. But, as the book suggests, people are puzzles that can never be finished, because we never reveal all of ourselves. There will always be a missing corner piece.

Next book: Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy. That’s right, I’m about to conquer the beast. Nice and early in the year, so it won’t set me too far behind.

– Kelsey

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve

  1. This was my first Anita Shreve book and I loved it. She had a few others (Sea Glass and Fortune’s Rocks, I think) that were set in the same house as Pilot’s Wife but at different times. I love little crossovers like that and ate them all up, but I haven’t read any of her more recent stuff.

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