Summary and book reviews of The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve

The Pilot's Wife

by Anita Shreve

The Pilot's Wife
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  • First Published:
    Mar 1999, 293 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 1999, 293 pages

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Book Summary

Even before the plane is located, the relentless focus on Kathryn's dead husband's life begins to bring a bizarre personal mystery into focus. Could there be any truth to the increasingly disturbing rumors that he had a secret?

Who can guess what a woman will do when the unthinkable becomes her reality?

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 effect 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 focus on her husband's life begins to bring a bizarre personal mystery into focus. Could there be any truth to the increasingly disturbing rumors that he had a secret?

Fighting the impulse to protect herself and her daughter from the details of the crash and the mystery surrounding it, Kathryn sets out to learn who her husband really was--whatever that knowledge may cost. The search will lead her to shocking revelations, testing both the truth of her marriage and the limits of her ability to face it.

From the bestselling author of The Weight of Water, this taut, impassioned novel asks fundamental questions we all have about how well we can really know anyone--even those (or especially those) we love the most. Written with grace and controlled beauty, The Pilot's Wife definitively places Anita Shreve among the ranks of the best novelists writing today.

Prologue

SHE HEARD A KNOCKING, AND THEN A DOG BARKING. Her dream left her, skittering behind a closing door. It had been a good dream, warm and close, and she minded. She fought the waking. It was dark in the small bedroom, with no light yet behind the shades. She reached for the lamp, fumbled her way up the brass, and she was thinking, What? What?

The lit room alarmed her, the wrongness of it, like an emergency room at midnight. She thought, in quick succession: Mattie. Then, Jack. Then, Neighbor. Then, Car accident. But Mattie was in bed, wasn't she? Kathryn had seen her to bed, had watched her walk down the hall and through a door, the door shutting with a firmness that was just short of a slam, enough to make a statement but not provoke a reprimand. And Jack--where was Jack? She scratched the sides of her head, raking out her sleep-flattened hair. Jack was--where? She tried to remember the schedule: London. Due home around lunchtime. She was certain. Or did she have it wrong...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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 ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Washington Post Book World - Georgia Jones-Davis

Gripping...You don't want to stop turning the pages once Kathryn has opened her door.

Orlando Sentinel - Susan Hubbard

Compulsively readable....To create both sympathetic characters and an enticing plot is no small feat, but Shreve does it seamlessly.

Houston Chronicle -Mike Snyder

An absorbing, inventive tale rendered in fine, original prose.

The San Diego Union-Tribune - Kate Callen

Kathryn's emotional quest is masterfully rendered....We go where Shreve leads because the writing is so sure.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Rebecca Radner

Highly readable....Shreve is extremely skillful at showing the stages by which someone learns to live with the unthinkable.

Reader Reviews

Teri

The ending of pilots wife
I enjoyed the book until the last few lines. The author should of been more specific. I reread the ending several times and still didn't understand it. I finally had to goggle the ending to understand it.

Kimberly B

The Pilots Wife
I couldn't put the book down. Shreve writes so descriptively and fluidly that its like watching a movie! I was confused with the very last paragraph though: A lottery ticket on the mantelpiece? Where did that come from? I mean, I understand she is...   Read More

Miranda

The Pilot's Wife
“SHE HEARD A KNOCKING AND THEN A DOG BARKING” and in that instant Kathryn Lyons life changed to an unexpected struggle between happiness and reality. Anita Shreve’s fictional masterpiece The Pilot’s Wife is an emotional roller coaster filled with ...   Read More

Whitney Harris

The Pilot's Wife
Anita Shreve’s novel, The Pilot’s Wife, is essentially about a woman, Kathryn Lyons, and how peaceful and perfect her life is until her husband’s plane explodes just off the coast of Ireland. Later in the story she begins to figure out that her life ...   Read More

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