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Slow,
Unconvincing,
Interesting

5 reviews

The Pilot's Wife
by Anita Shreve

Published: 1999-03-30
Paperback : 304 pages
21 members reading this now
18 clubs reading this now
47 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 4 of 5 members
Anita Shreve's hauntingly beautiful #1 bestseller and Oprah's Book Club selection about tragedy, grief, betrayal, and the 'impossibility of knowing another person.'
As a pilot's wife, Kathryn has learned to expect both intense exhilaration and long periods alone, but nothing has prepared ...
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Introduction

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. Even before the plane is located in waters off the Irish coast, the relentless scrutiny of her husband's life begins to bring a bizarre personal mystery into focus.

Editorial Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, March 1999: With five novels to her credit, including the acclaimed The Weight of Water, Anita Shreve now offers a skillfully crafted exploration of the long reach of tragedy in The Pilot's Wife. News of Jack Lyons's fatal crash sends his wife into shock and emotional numbness:
Kathryn wished she could manage a coma. Instead, it seemed that quite the opposite had happened: She felt herself to be inside of a private weather system, one in which she was continuously tossed and buffeted by bits of news and information, sometimes chilled by thoughts of what lay immediately ahead, thawed by the kindness of others ... frequently drenched by memories that seemed to have no regard for circumstance or place, and then subjected to the nearly intolerable heat of reporters, photographers and curious on-lookers. It was a weather system with no logic, she had decided, no pattern, no progression, no form.
The situation becomes even more dire when the plane's black box is recovered, pinning responsibility for the crash on Jack. In an attempt to clear his name, Kathryn searches for any and all clues to the hours before the flight. Yet each discovery forces her to realize that she didn't know her husband of 16 years at all. Shreve's complex and highly convincing treatment of Kathryn's dilemma, coupled with intriguing minor characters and an expertly paced plot, makes The Pilot's Wife really take off.

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

Questions from the Publisher's Reading Guide:
1. The complex relationship between secrecy and intimacy is an important theme of The Pilot's Wife. Consider the secrets kept by the following characters: Kathryn, Jack, Mattie, Robert, Muire. In each case, what motivates the deceiver? Who is protected and who is harmed by the secret? Can deception ever be an expression of love? Examine the conversation between Kathryn and Mattie on pages 118-119, especially Mattie's question: "But how do you ever know that you know a person?" Is there a more satisfactory answer to this question than the one Kathryn offers?


2. 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?


3. 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?


4. 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?


5. 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?


6. How do the memories and thoughts Jack and Kathryn each have about their respective mothers influence their views of marriage?


7. 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 13 relate to the disasters?


8. "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?


9. 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.


10. 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?


11. 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. 275) 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?


12. 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.


13. 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?


14. 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?


15. 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?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  " Depressing becomes unputdownable "by ebach (see profile) 08/12/17

Although the first third of THE PILOT'S WIFE is depressing, it is so well written you won't want to give up on the book. Then it becomes unputdownable.

Kathryn's husband, a commercial air

... (read more)

 
  "Wasn't my favorite"by litimberlake (see profile) 09/20/12

Enjoyed the read but a little slow.

 
  "Great Book Group Book"by Jadell (see profile) 02/15/11

 
  "A Powerful Story"by pinkles75 (see profile) 12/22/10

I was struck by how attached I became to the story. It was one of those books that I walk away from feeling like it has consumed my life for a brief period of time. I find myself thinking about the characters... (read more)

 
  "Pilot's Wife"by mgenduso (see profile) 01/17/10

 
  "What would you do?"by Premadonna (see profile) 04/24/09

I like that this is a book that allows for discussion about the situation not only about how the author wrote it.

 
  "We loved this book! We talked about it for two hours and still weren't done!"by omahabookworm (see profile) 09/27/07

Anita Shreve is a insightful author. Her stories are always captivating. The characters in The Pilot's Wife are wonderfully developed, and, as the reader, one becomes part of their life. When good things... (read more)

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