The Pilot's Wife
Being married to a pilot has taught Kathryn Lyons to be ready for an emergency, but nothing has prepared her for the late-night knock on her door and the news of her husband's fatal crash. As Kathryn struggles through her grief, a bizarre mystery swims into focus, and she is forced to confront disturbing rumors about the man she loved and the life that she took for granted.
Torn between her impulse to protect her husband's memory and her desire to know the truth, Kathryn sets off to find out if she ever really knew the man who was her husband. In her determination to test the truth of her marriage, she faces shocking revelations about the secrets a man can keep and the actions a woman is willing to take.
Anita Shreve is also the author of the acclaimed novels Eden Close, Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, and Resistance. Her award-winning stories and nonfiction writings have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire. Shreve is at work on a novel The Pilot's Wife, to be published by Little, Brown in May 1998. She lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
Anita Shreve is also the author of the acclaimed novels Eden Close, Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, and Resistance. Her award-winning stories and nonfiction writings have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire. She lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
As a reader (and as a writer), I am most interested in the marriage of story and language. When I find a book that magically combines both, I am transported. Some of the novels that have done this for me are: That Night by Alice McDermot, Lies of Silence by Brian Moore, Cal by Bernard McLaverty, The Child in Time by Ian McEwen, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, and Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. These are old favorites, ones I return to often, like going again and again to the well. Oddly enough, with the exception of the Hazzard, all of the novels are short. (Maybe this has something to do with the sharp shock of the short novel.)
Like many readers, I am continually in search of books that allow me to lose myself in an entirely unique universe. And thus, I am constantly adding new favorites to my list of old favorites. I am thinking in particular of The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman, The Untouchables by John Banville, and Mail by Mameve Medwed, all relatively recent books that have given me a great deal of pleasure. I can think of no other experience quite like that of being 20 or so pages into a book and realizing that this is the real thing: a book that is going to offer the delicious promise of a riveting story, arresting language and characters that will haunt me for days. When I find such a treasure, I immediately want to savor it, to parcel it out in small doses, to make it last.
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The questions that follow are intended to enhance your, or your group's, reading of Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife, an enormously gripping and powerfully wrought novel of loss, mystery and betrayal.
Does Shreve's use of flashbacks to Jack and Kathryn's marriage reveal the changes occurring between Jack and Kathryn? In what way did Jack and in what way did Kathryn each contribute to the marital problems? How did they each react to the difficulties?
Was Robert's betrayal the worst of all, as Kathryn thinks to herself? Who betrayed whom in this novel? Can you ever love someone who has betrayed you?
When Kathryn throws her wedding ring into the ocean, she thinks to herself: To be relieved of love is to give up a terrible burden. Do you agree?
Regarding Jack's religion or lack of it, he appeared to be quite divided. Was he assuming religious beliefs just to please the women he was with? How does his religious division give us clues to his character?
How do the memories and thoughts Jack and Kathryn each have about their respective mothers influence their views of marriage?
The theme of disaster is central to the story. Not just the physical disaster of the crash, or even the disaster to the family that Jack's death produces; but the disaster that unfolds as Kathryn learns the truth of Jack's double life and many secrets. How does the passage from the bottom of page 12 relate to the disasters?
"and she thought then....such a thing of beauty."
Could this passage also be used at the end of the book? Is there beauty in disaster?
What devices does Shreve use to make her novel such a compelling read? Consider the flashbacks, the action, the style of language and word choice, and character painting.
Do you think the reason Jack couldn't be honest with Kathryn about his mother and his life with Muire was not so much because of his love for Kathryn, but more because he didn't want to repeat what his mother did and subject his child to what he went through? In what ways do Kathryn and Jack repeat their respective mother's mistakes?
Muire revealed the whole truth to Kathryn about Jack's secret life. How did this confession help Kathryn find the answers to her questions about how "real" her marriage was? Who is the "real wife?" (p. 265) What constitutes a 'real wife'? Do we continue to think that Kathryn is the 'real' wife, because this is her story, or Muire for accepting the truth about Kathryn?
As the story progresses Kathryn gradually pieces together mysteries of her husband's life from the facts that come to light following Jack's death. At the same time she is trying to understand the pieces of her own life. Does Kathryn and Jack's house, originally inhabited by nuns retreating from the world, play a significant part in this story? In what way was the house that Kathryn and Jack lived in for 11 years a metaphor for their relationship? Discuss the significance of Kathryn's discovery of the site of the Sisters' Chapel at the end of the book.
At what point in the story did you figure out that Jack was having an affair? Were you suspicious when Kathryn found the receipt for the bath robe, or the note in his pocket? Did you want to believe Kathryn's suspicions?
Discuss the differences between Kathryn's relationship to Jack and Mattie's to him. Which relationship seemed more honest? Which relationship seemed stronger? As a mother, is Kathryn obligated, at some future time, to share full knowledge of Jack with Mattie?
Do you think The Pilot's Wife would make a good film? If so, why? Who would you cast as the major characters in the film version? Why?
Booksellers whose questions have been used in The Pilot's Wife readers' group guide:
Melissa A. Frazer, Lake Country Booksellers, White Bear Lake, MN
Susan Avery, Ariel Books, New Paltz, NY
Justine Morgan, The Bookstore, Hollister, CA
Lucy Crane, Bookwoorks, Albuquerque, NM
Kristin Kennell, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
Peggy Baldwin, Bookworks, Aptos, CA
Heidi Gunter, Magnolia's Bookstore, Seattle, WA
Kristin Brackett, Key Chain Books, Tavernier, FL
Ettabelle Schwartz, The Learned Owl, Hudson, OH
"Until now, Kathryn Lyons's life has been peaceful if unextraordinary: a satisfying job teaching high school in the New England mill town of her childhood; a picture-perfect home by the ocean; a precocious, independent-minded fifteen-year-old daughter; and a happy marriage whose occasional dull passages she attributes to the unavoidable deadening of time. As a pilot's wife, Kathryn has learned to expect both intense exhilaration and long periods alone - but nothing has prepared her for the late-night knock that lets her know her husband has died in a crash. As Kathryn struggles with her grief, she descends into a maelstrom of publicity stirred up by the modern hunger for the details of tragedy."
— The Publisher
"Though sacrificing depth and credibility for speed, Shreve's sixth (The Weight of Water, 1997, etc.) is another suspenseful portrait of a modern marriage rent by betrayal and loss. After her pilot husband's plane blows up off the coast of Ireland, Kathryn discovers bit by bit how little she knew Jack Lyons. First, she faces a media frenzy when the flight recorder makes clear that Jack was carrying a bomb in his flight bag. Her illusions of a her so-called good marriage crumble, despite her belief in the love she and Jack had and the need to keep Jack's memory pure for teenage daughter Mattie. As she navigates the dark days with the priest-like assistance of Robert, the pilot union's grievance expert, Kathryn increasingly feels compelled to come to grips with Jack's hidden life."