All three of the following books are about or by the Lindbergh family. I started with The Aviator's Wife, refreshed my memory of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea with a reread and then filled in the blanks with Reeve Lindbergh's memoir, Under a Wing.
I've already given away the copy of The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin kindly sent by my friend Paula, so I'm not going to bother writing down the details but you probably realize it's a February 2013 release, which arrived on shelves a little early. I almost wish I'd read the author's notes first, as they do explain the way she chose to portray Anne Morrow Lindbergh's experiences through emotion, sometimes skimming over events that might have been interesting to learn about in greater detail because she considered the details of events less relevant than feelings.
Told in first person, through Anne's eyes, The Aviator's Wife tells her story from just a bit before her first encounter with Charles Lindbergh, as she and her sister traveled to Mexico City, where her father served as the U.S. Ambassador. In fact, if Paperback Swap is accurate about these things, the book may have been tentatively entitled, "The Ambassador's Daughter". Either is factual, but I do wish the title didn't relate Anne Morrow Lindbergh to anyone but herself, although perhaps that's just a super-secret publishing trick to get the book to sell.
I had mixed feelings about The Aviator's Wife. I didn't like the manner in which it was told - a rather melancholy style that came off as very "women's fictiony" in my mind. Of course, I enjoyed reading a little more about Anne Morrow Lindbergh's life, but in the end my sense was that she was a bit too compliant and Charles Lindbergh was an absent, cold and domineering man. I can't think of Anne Morrow Lindbergh quite in that way. She was probably very much of the time in regard to letting the husband rule the household (at least when he was home) but that doesn't necessarily mean she was a complete wimp.
The cover is gorgeous and yet a bit annoying as it portrays a tall, model-thin Anne. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was quite short. She was definitely thin, but that image doesn't resemble her at all. I think the real Anne was lovely and would have liked to see the cover modeled after the actual person. There's just something offensive about stretching the image of a person who really existed to such proportions.
I gave The Aviator's Wife a 4/5 at Goodreads but then went back and revised it to a 3/5. I liked it but disliked the style too much to give it a very good rating. 3/5 is average - good writing but something felt missing and the style was one I really dislike.
In The Aviator's Wife, the author refers to the time when Anne went to Florida to reflect, write, take long walks on the beach and write some more. Gift from the Sea was the result. I've read it, before -- about 20 years ago. At the time, I was the mother of two young children and I enjoyed the book enough to keep it on the good shelves.
Now, of course, I am a middle-aged mother with one married child and one in college. Anne Morrow Lindbergh still had children at home at the time she wrote Gift from the Sea, but she talks a great deal about being a woman in mid-life and this time the book really resonated with me in a way it did not on the first reading. It's a very personal book about working through the difficulties of being a woman, a mother, a wife, and trying to find and separate your own individuality in the midst of all the chaos and then, later, the time of adjustment when everyone flies the coop.
Gift from the Sea is definitely a book to hold onto for repeated readings. I'm sure I'll revisit it, again.
Under a Wing by Reeve Lindbergh will be my final Lindbergh read, for now, although I'm pretty sure I have a copy of Charles Lindbergh's Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, The Spirit of St. Louis, somewhere. Because The Aviator's Wife focuses on Anne Morrow Lindbergh's emotions but skims over some events, I was hoping Reeve would fill in the blanks a bit. For the most part, she describes what it was like to live as the child of famous parents.
Reeve Lindbergh is the youngest of the six children of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. By the time she was born, the couple had stopped trying to escape the press with frequent moves between countries and states and finally settled. Reeve Lindbergh grew up in a rambling, ocean-front house that was surrounded by heavy brush and forest to keep prying eyes away. Although the death of their eldest child was far in the past and never spoken about, the Lindberghs were fiercely protective of their privacy. Reeve describes growing up within the Lindbergh family and various losses she has coped with in adulthood.
What I loved about Under a Wing:
The fuller description of Reeve's famous father was very satisfying. I thought The Aviator's Wife focused too much on the negatives -- his absences and what a control freak he was -- painting him as a very cold man. Reeve describes Charles Lindbergh as the more physically affectionate and playful parent. While both were "distant" in some way, she comments that an awful lot of people describe their parents as distant. When her father was home, there was a tension caused by his perfectionism and insistence that the children do everything on their lists, behave in a certain manner, etc. And, yet, those were often the times they had the most fun, as well. When he left, they were a little lost for a time and then they'd return to a more casual lifestyle.
I particularly loved the author's description of a time when she was flying with her father and the plane's engine died. He skillfully landed the plane and it was an eye-opening experience for her -- revealing a bit about his courage, confidence, how he didn't just fly the plane but became the plane. There's also a description of Reeve's loss of a son at about the same age as that of her famously kidnapped/killed brother and how her son's death helped her mother, who insisted on sitting with the body as she could not do with her own son, who was cremated immediately after identification.
What I disliked about Under a Wing:
Parts of the book are just flat boring. Reeve Lindbergh describes her daily life as a child in quite a bit of detail. Sometimes that detail is interesting; sometimes it is simply commonplace. Her childhood was so far removed from the real world that she didn't seem to even understand what was typical and what was unusual. Her descriptions of visits to the grandmothers' houses, particularly the Morrows' -- that grandmother had three homes and a raft of servants and her memories provided a nice peek into the life of a very wealthy woman who somehow managed to maintain a lifestyle that had faded elsewhere. But, for a short book there were a lot of times I felt myself trying to pick up the reading pace to just get through some of the dull bits.
In general, Under a Wing did help to fill in the blanks and restored Charles Lindbergh's image, in my mind. Yes, he was a perfectionist and control freak who was very old-fashioned. But, he was also a loving father. Nice to know. The author also didn't shrink from describing what little she knew of her older brother's death and described her father's death in a way that made a whole lot more sense than the novel does, portraying both of the elder Lindberghs much more kindly. I got what I hoped for from Under a Wing and I'm content.
I'm kind of hoping I'll run across Charles Lindbergh's biography sometime soon, though.
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