The Pilot's Wife

by Anita Shreve

Paperback, 1999

Call number





Back Bay Books (1999), Edition: 1st Back Bay Pbk. Ed, 304 pages


After a pilot dies in the crash of an airliner, his wife discovers he was a bigamist. A face-to-face follows between the legal wife, Kathryn of Boston by whom he had one child, and the other woman, Muire, who lives in England with their two children. By the author of The Weight of Water.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Mumugrrl
Some people have commented in the reviews I've read here that they weren't surprised by the plot, or that the writer was trite or cliche in her approach to the subject matter.

I don't think we, the readers, were supposed to be surprised. I think that the author was trying to show that because of the inherent trustworthiness, and trusting nature of Kathryn, that she was surprised by her husband's ultimate betrayal. Even though there were signs and symptoms of problems in her marriage, Kathryn turned a blind eye to them because she wanted to trust her husband, and because she truly didn't want to know. When forced to face her husband's treachery she had to decide how to go on living, how to grieve, and whether or not in the future she would again allow herself to be deceived.

I loved this book.
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LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
The Pilot’s Wife was difficult for me to get through for personal reasons. I felt it did a great job of exploring the range of emotions someone goes through after the sudden tragic death of a family member. The rest of the story was unremarkable, bordering on the trite and even expected.

Despite this, I enjoyed the journey the author took me on. The writing was easy going and carried my along smoothly. I only wish there was more substance to the story as at end, this is nothing more than another story about a woman coming to grips with her husband’s infidelity. The only interesting twist was applying the steps to accepting the grieving process was applying the same steps to the accepting the infidelity.

This is a work of fiction. As such, the author is allowed certain liberties with reality. I could not accept, however, the pilot’s political alliance as easily as his personal alliance. That was a little too far-fetched for me. If you have no attachments to the plot, this should be a quick read.
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LibraryThing member laughingwoman6
For some reason I absolutely loathed this book. I did finish it which I often can't do if I really hate something. It was well written but I found the main character to be so passive in the face of such betrayal I found myself wanting to kick her. I also found the husband to be a completely loathesome and despicable character...and a bit of a pedophile with his penchant for much younger women.… (more)
LibraryThing member readingwithtea
This was an Oprah’s Book Club choice and I’ve heard rumours of Anita Shreve writing “chick-lit”, so I didn’t really know how hefty this was going to be. A pilot’s wife receives the news that her husband’s plane has exploded and there are no survivors. She follows her grief and her daughter’s devastation through the suggestion that it was suicide and into the (entirely unexpected) conclusion.

I found this a struggle to read – it’s emotionally difficult and I loathe flying, planes and everything to do with them, so to read the story of the aftermath of a crash was harrowing – but enthralling. The characters are strongly rendered, the coastal countryside beautifully represented and the moves back and forth between the immediate aftermath of the crash and the history of the relationships are fluidly managed.

I was disappointed by the twist – I saw it coming a little faster than the wife did, but not quickly – but it seemed such a let-down in a good character. The developments then seemed a bit far-fetched, but certainly riveting and heart-gripping.

All in all, an engrossing read, fascinating characters, slightly disappointing plot (not from lack of suspense, but from lack of justice to the characters).
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LibraryThing member Xraygirl
I thought it was boring...
LibraryThing member PamelaFeola
I just finished reading this book a short while ago. I am taking an accelerated online computer class and have had very little time. However, I just could not put this book down. This is one of Oprah's book club novels and it intrigued me right from the first page. The emotional ups and downs of the main character could be felt on almost every page. Since I am going through some tough times right now, I could really identify with her. A great read and I look forward to reading some more of Ms. Shreve's books.… (more)
LibraryThing member dalzan
Kathryn is devastated by Jack's death in an explosion mid flight. 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, especially when she discovers he has another wife and family.… (more)
LibraryThing member askum
This was a book that made my emotions flow. It was an excellent book and a very good story.
LibraryThing member lit_chick
American airline pilot, Jack Lyons, is killed in a mid-air explosion off the coast of northern Ireland. When transportation investigators recover the aircraft's "black box," the press on both sides of the Atlantic have a field day. Did Lyons commit suicide, and take down over a hundred airline passengers with him? Was the fate of the flight caused by pilot error? Had he been irritated, depressed, or otherwise out of sorts when he left his New Hampshire home to fly his regular route? As the investigation unravels the facts behind the catastrophe, Lyons' widow, Kathryn, will have cause to wish the flight recorder had never been found. She will also have cause to wonder whom, exactly, she was married to sixteen years.

Spent a wintry Sunday engrossed in The Pilot's Wife and thoroughly enjoyed it. Story line is skillful and suspenseful; and the sense of coastal New Hampshire is lovely. Shreve is a quick, reliable escape read for me, and I appreciate her for that.
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LibraryThing member verenka
I had no idea what to expect from this book and was first a little wary that it would be "only" about the pilot's wife's grief. The writing turned out to be so good, though, that I wouldn't actually have minded that. On top of that, it also turned into a real mystery.
I liked the writing style of this book and how well the scenes from the present and the memories work together.

A note on the side: Once flight/airport security was mentioned I checked the book's publication date, because I couldn't believe the book could have been written after 2001.
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LibraryThing member bettyandboo
I usually like to include at least one thing that I liked about the book in my reviews ... but in this case, I'm coming up a little short. Truthfully, I didn't like very much about The Pilot's Wife. I wanted to like this, have been wanting to read it since Oprah chose it for her book club in March 1999, and I was thrilled to find it at a used book sale someplace. But, the novel falls short in so many places.

The characters are as remote as the landscape where the plane that Jack Lyons is piloting crashes - and perhaps that was intentional (if so, that's well-done). I never felt a connection to anyone in the novel, and I expected to - particularly with Mattie, the daughter, as I understand on a personal level what it is like to lose a father suddenly. Kathryn and Mattie's reactions to the loss of Jack, their husband and father, respectively, are devoid of emotions - and the descriptions of what emotions they do feel are empty. In one scene, Kathryn learns a truly devastating secret about her husband; mere hours later, she claims that she "is over the worst of it."

Plot-wise, this storyline is incredibly predictable and indistinguishable from other movies-of-the-week with similar scenarios. Even the revelation in the most climatic scenes is predictable enough.

Shreve's writing in "The Pilot's Wife" is cliche-ridden and trite. The plane crash that claims the life of her husband occurs mere days before Christmas. When asked how her holiday was, the widow Kathryn responds:
"Sad," she said. "Pathetic. Every minute was pathetic. The
worst was how hard Mattie was trying. As if she owed it to Julia and
me. As if she owed it somehow to her father. I wish now we had
canceled the whole thing."

I know the feeling.

Or Kathryn's exchange with her grandmother upon learning of her husband Jack's death:

"I loved him," Kathryn said.
"I know you did. I know you
did. I loved him, too. We all loved him."
"Why did this happen?"
"Forget the why," Julia said. "There is no why. It doesn't
matter. It doesn't help. It's done and can't be undone."

The Pilot's Wife was written a decade ago and the reader is aware of the absence of the Internet as well as that of cell phones. During the past decade, Anita Shreve has gained a following as a very popular writer. Thankfully, her writing seems to have become stronger with time, leaving the reader with less of a feeling of being on autopilot.
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LibraryThing member carmarie
This was a great book. This was my first Anita Shreve book, and made me love her! I finished this book in 2 days. The wife's journey of "finding" her husband after he dies was memorable to me.
LibraryThing member Jaylabelle
Devoted pilot's wife loses husband in mysterious plane crash only to discover how little of him she really knew...
LibraryThing member maforsyth
Plane explosion near coast of Ireland. How well can we really know another person?
LibraryThing member Deesirings
Wow, I really enjoyed this book. Such a simple title and yet, an enigma of a title, once you've read the book. This book raises all sorts of poignant questions about what it means to know someone, what marriage should be, what love is, what morality is.... Really Big Questions. Presented in a really readable novel form.
LibraryThing member hockeycrew
This excellent book explores the grief one feels when their spouse suddenly passes in a tragic accident. At the same time Shreve envelops the reader in a mystery about the life the husband truly led.
LibraryThing member kdworkin
A very suspenseful read, I couldn't put it down and when I manage to, I couldn't wait to pick it up again!
LibraryThing member mcclean_
I read the book because it was on Oprah's List. Would I read it again prboably not. It was an okay book for the story it was telling , but its not one that I pull from the shelf in bookstore to recommend to other readers.
LibraryThing member echoesofstars
I'm not sure how to begin the review for this one, so I'll begin at the end. The ending surprised me. The book just seemed to suddenly stop, in such a way as to remind me of my students' writing. My students say what they have to say, and then they stop without closure. But maybe that's the point - the lack of closure. How can you ever have closure for something so weirdly traumatic?

Overall, it was a good read. I could easily imagine myself as Kathryn. The characters are very believable, and the grieving process is well-played-out. I wish Mattie's character was a little more well-developed, but it really doesn't hurt the book the way Mattie was written.

This book made me think more deeply about my marriage. I should take nothing for granted.
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LibraryThing member bakersfieldbarbara
Kathryn Lyons life seemed wonderful, with a pilot husband and a lovely daughter. But after the husband's plane crashed, secrets are unveiled. As Kathyrn struggles with the secrets, she sets out to find the truth. This is a book that is impossible to put down. Don't miss reading it.
LibraryThing member jlouise77
Very good book, well written and engrossing. The story itself is every woman's worst nightmare, I can't even imagine having the strength the main character.
LibraryThing member eljabo
Has Oprah ever recommended a cheery book? Her book club picks are always well-written, but oh-so-sad.
LibraryThing member LibrarysCat
The grief of a young pilot's wife is interrupted by a betrayal. The wife follows the clues to find that her husband had been leading a double life. Fairly enjoyable.
LibraryThing member tgsalter
Suspense and adultery. A good mystery about an airline disaster and the people left behind.
LibraryThing member davidabrams
I didn’t want to like "The Pilot’s Wife." The plot reads like the synopsis of a Lifetime Original Movie ("On today’s program, a widow struggles with grief and suspicion after her husband dies in a plane accident. Starring [insert has-been TV actress name here]")

But I couldn’t help myself. I kept turning the pages at a steady clip. Author Anita Shreve has a way of pulling the reader inside her characters. After a while, I too started to feel grief and suspicion.

The novel opens with an attention-grabber. Kathryn Lyons opens the door in the middle of the night. On her doorstep stands a representative from the airline. He’s got bad news about her husband. Jack, the pilot of a 104-passenger plane, is presumed dead after the jet exploded in mid-air over the coast of Ireland. Kathryn is socked in the gut and so is the reader.

From there, the story spools out in standard Lifetime Movie fashion. We see Kathryn deal bravely with the loss of her husband, trying to make sense of a senseless accident. We agonize as she tries to bridge the communication gap with her rebellious teenager daughter. We gasp as we learn that Jack the pilot may not have been the model husband he was cracked up to be. We sigh as Kathryn’s breast heaves with the first stirrings of attraction for Robert Hart, the airline spokesman who delivered the bad news in the middle of the night and who later becomes her confidant. Shreve handles this last bit with amateur kid gloves—even the guy’s last name telegraphs his purpose, for goodness’ sake!

But it’s in the details where Shreve flies high:

"The images assaulted her. The feeling of Jack’s breath at the top of her spine, as though he were whispering to her bones. The sliding sensation against her mouth when he gave her a quick kiss as he went off to work."

"Carefully—monitoring herself for seismic shifts—she reached down and pulled the top sheet over her. She imagined she could smell Jack in the flannel."

"There were spaces between her thoughts now—dead air, cotton fluff."

Shreve hits every note just right and Kathryn’s voice becomes as poignant and trustworthy as anything you’re likely to read in this genre. For those who like what Shreve’s accomplished here, check out her earlier novel "The Weight of Water," which has a much more original story and an even more compelling set of characters.
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