The Pilot's Wife

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It's my turn to pick and I chose this book that has been on my shelf for a while, flagged as a good choice for a book club discussion. Last month we read "The Liar's Girl" and during our discussion we talked about how someone you think you know could surprise you. So this seemed like a good continuation of that theme. I read both the paper copy (with a copyright of 1998) and the eBook.

Obviously this story is about a woman married to an airline pilot. When the plane goes down, there are a lot of questions about what caused the crash. Suicide is one theory that is contemplated across several pages.

*PSA* On ePg. 119 Kathryn says, "If your father was unhappy, I'd have known." Speaking as someone who lost a spouse to suicide, and therefore spoken to many other left-behind spouses, suicide is often a surprise. It is very possible for someone to be that unhappy and not show it to their loved ones. I've often said that depressed people should win Academy awards because they are often the best actors. Many times I witnessed my husband go from laying on the couch totally depressed to putting on a happy face like he'd just won the lottery when unexpected visitors showed up, only to go back to laying on the couch depressed after they left.*PSA*

For an excellent show that deals with mental health issues, among other things, I recommend "A Million Little Things"

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 1

Religion: 4

Gruesome: 2

Suspense: 0

Morality: 2

Traditional: 2

Sex - in Ch. 1 there are casual references to intimacy in a marriage. A woman reflects on the seasons of marital intimacy. (ePg. 63) Minor references to makeup sex. (ePg. 107) A couple of lines about a couple on their wedding night. (ePg. 280) A woman finds a vibrator in a bedside table. (pg. 228)

Religion - "as big as white bread communion offerings" (pg. 86) reference to Christmas decorations (pg. 87) Setting = 1 week before Christmas A few instances of the Lord's name in vain. (ePg. 103, 104, pg. 109) A woman contemplates her lack of religion and regrets not exposing her daughter to a religion. A grown man had attended Catholic school and still harbored resentment over a bad experience. His feelings seemed to subside over the years, but they were never discussed. (ePg. 144) A woman admires the physique of a priest and knowingly lies to him. (ePg. 145 & 146) While talking to a priest, a woman refers to the media as "crucifying" her husband, then feels embarrassed for having used that word. (ePg. 148) When a plane takes off, a woman passenger prays "the only prayer she could remember" - the Lord's Prayer / Our Father (pg. 203) *SPOILER ALERT* A married man marries a second wife in a Catholic church. (pg. 216)

Gruesome - there are a couple of references near the end of Part 1 to a child drowning.

Suspense - even knowing there was a secret to be revealed, I didn't feel any suspenseful moments.

Morality - There is a minor storyline about people standing up for what they believe in. *SPOILER ALERT* it's more than just an extra-marital affair, it's a full-on second marriage. It seems like the emotions around the betrayal were somewhat glossed over so the moral crime felt less than it actually was.

Traditional - Mattie admits to her mom she had sex last year - when she was barely 14 (pg. 92) Within one page a man uses the "f" word three times towards his wife. (ePg. 104-105) A man disregards traditional marriage.

I was a little disoriented at the beginning of the novel. Perhaps that was Shreve's intention since the main character was also slightly disoriented - but I really don't think it was meant to be so. In the second paragraph on page 3, "She thought...Kathryn had seen her to bed." I didn't realize until page 17 that the she doing the thinking was Kathryn. I also had a hard time figuring out how old Mattie was. There are several descriptions of Kathryn watching Mattie sleep, including one comment about her stuffed tiger having fallen on the floor. I have three children between the ages of 15 - 30. The older they got, the less I watched them sleep. Even after their father died, I didn't watch them sleep. So that set my mind to think Mattie was young. The flashbacks also added to that perception. Turns out she was between 14 and 15.

I was taught that when you change a speaker, you change the paragraph. There are several times in this book that that doesn't happen, which made it a little hard to follow who was speaking. (ePg. 171 & 187) Oddly, just yesterday I was reading my favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, and saw the same situation. One time in the tens of thousands of pages I have read from Diana Gabaldon is forgivable. Multiple times from Anita Shreve is annoying.

Discussion Questions

In the beginning of the novel there is a lot of focus on time. Kathryn specifically noted the exact time - 3:24 she heard the knock, the crash occurred at 1:57 a.m. which was 6:57 a.m. at the crash site, at 3:38 she went into the kitchen and realized it had only been 14 minutes since she got out of bed. Later she wakes up at 3:30 a.m. after having slept nine hours, indicating she fell asleep at 6:30 p.m. (ePg. 189) What effect did this focus on time have on the reader? Did it set a precedent for the novel? Towards the end of the novel there are several airplane flights and no specific times are mentioned, even when one person reschedules a flight for someone else. Was this lack of specific time at the end of the novel intentional? What does it signify?

At the end of Chapter 1, what did Kathryn mean when she said, "Mom,...What they usually say is Mom." (pg. 20)

If your spouse posthumously went through your pockets or purse, would they understand what they found? (pg. 43)

Do you agree with Kathryn's philosophies?:

  • Odd, she thought, how intensely you knew a person, or thought you did, when you were in love - soaked, drenched in love - only to discover later that perhaps you didn't know that person quite as well as you had imagined. Or weren't quite as well known as you had hoped to be. In the beginning, a lover drank in every word and gesture and then tried to hold on to that intensity for as long as possible. But inevitably, if two people were together long enough, that intensity had to wane. It was the way people worked, Kathryn thought, with a need to evolve from being sick with love to making a life with someone who was also changing, altering himself, so that the couple could one day raise a child. (ePg. 61)

  • ...she thought that any marriage was like radio reception: It came and went. Occasionally...Jack - would be clear to her. At other times, there would be interference, a staticky sound between them. At those times, it would be as though she couldn't quite hear Jack, as though his messages to her were drifting in the wrong direction through the stratosphere. (ePg. 64)

  • ...she and Jack go back to normal, as they have been before, which is to say that they, like all the other couples Kathryn has ever known, live in a state of gentle decline, of being infinitesimally, but not agonizingly, less than they were the day before. Which means, on the whole, she thinks, that it is a good marriage. (ePg. 107)

Share memories of your first experience in a cockpit or small plane. (pgs. 75-77)

Julia's rules for clothing:

  • "being tired of an article of clothing wasn't a good enough reason to buy a new one"

  • "if you hadn't worn a certain dress within a year, you should give it away" (pg. 84)

What are your rules?

When Mattie asked Kathryn, " do you ever know that you know a person?", Kathryn replied "You feel it." (ePg. 119) What would your answer to Mattie be?

In the pocket of Kathryn's parka were: "A used Kleenex. Coins. An outdated credit card. A couple of dollar bills. A tube of Lifesavers." (pg. 128) What would be in yours? What's the best thing you've found in a jacket pocket?

Kathryn tells the priest, "We passed out of being in love to just loving." The priest replies that "Just loving is all that God asks of you." Kathryn realizes she never contemplated what God wanted from her marriage. (ePg. 147) What do you think, is "just loving" enough?

Robert told Kathryn, "Of all people...this should not have happened to you." (ePg. 188) Was there a hidden meaning in his comment?

Were you expecting a romance between Kathryn and Robert?

Did you prefer the memory scenes with Jack or the grief scenes with Robert or with Julia/Mattie?

How did you feel about Julia saying time away from Kathryn was better for Mattie? (pg. 201)

Kathryn was suddenly afraid of flying. (ePg. 204) Have you ever been suddenly afraid of something that you were never afraid of before?

When Dierdre told Kathryn her dad had been home at Christmas, Muire explained that they had celebrated early. (ePg. 231) Did you believe Muire? Muire thought "it" was worse for her because she knew the whole situation. (ePg. 233) Do you agree with Muire?

After Kathryn leaves Muire's, she wanders the streets in the rain. There is a lot of detailed imagery about the rain. (ePg. 235) What is the rain a metaphor for?

When Kathryn unravels her scarf, "She would have to recast all her memories now." Should she revise her memories, preserve them, or forget them? (pg. 242)

Kathryn's last question to Muire was to know more about Jack's mother. (ePg. 257)

What would your last question to Muire be?

Kathryn felt betrayed by Robert when she learned he was watching her to see if she knew anything. (ePg. 258) Was she right to feel betrayed?

Kathryn "wondered...why she had never imagined an affair. How could a woman live with a man all that time and never suspect? It seemed, at the very least, a monumental act of naivete, of oblivion. But then she thought she knew the answer even as she asked the question: A dedicated adulterer causes no suspicion, she realized, because he truly does not want to be caught." (ePg. 267)

  • Does this indicate there are some men who want to be caught?

  • Is a woman who never considers the possibility naive or oblivious?

  • Does a dedicated person really not cause suspicion, or does it align with the naivete of the spouse?

  • Did Jack do anything that you considered suspicious?

  • Is it healthy to consider, from time to time, that your spouse might be cheating?

Kathryn wondered how a union that produced two beautiful kids could be invalid. What do you think? Was it?

Theme Ideas

Decorate with black and white pictures that might have been Julia in her younger days according to the descriptions on page 36. Decorate with a ball of black chenille yarn. (pg. 243)

Decorate with "prints of horses, mated in dark green and framed in gold. (ePg. 207)

Serve a variety of dishes like people bring for bereavement, such as "casseroles, pies, brownies, cakes, cookies, salads, and dinners in separate containers". (pg. 34)

Serve salad, chili, garlic bread and tea like Robert and Kathryn had on the first night. (pg. 50)

Serve lobster, potato sticks and konfetkakke and vodka, as were mentioned as common purchases at the local grocery store. (pg. 59)

Serve bagels with cream cheese and egg sandwiches, like the predictable routines of Kathryn's fellow towns-folk. (ePg. 80)

Serve an orange sponge cake, like the scent of Julia's house. (ePg. 82)

Serve hot chocolate like Julia made for Kathryn and Mattie. (ePg. 96)

Serve roast chicken like they ate on Thursdays. (pg. 128)

Serve lobster, and beer, like Robert brought. (ePg. 167) Use a red flowered tablecloth and include "bowls for the shells, bread, melted butter, and a thick roll of paper towel". (ePg. 168)

Serve one of the three school picnic menus: (pg. 193-194)

Serve eggs, sausages, toast in a silver-rack and coffee like Kathryn and Robert had in the hotel for breakfast. (pg. 252)

Serve crab and lobster like the fisherman who took her to the crash site was fishing for. (ePg. 274)