"Sometimes, she thought, courage was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of another and not stopping."
I first heard of The Pilot's Wife years ago when I bought multiple copies of one of Shreve's other books, The Last Time They Met, for my old book club (a book I selected because it was cheap, and because the bookstore had enough copies for everyone. Plus it had a nicely-colored cover, and the synopsis sounded decent). The dust jacket said "by the author of The Pilot's Wife" across the top. I'd never heard of The Pilot's Wife, but I felt like I should have. So, years later when I found a used copy for 75¢, I figured I would give it a try.
It's the story of (would you have ever guessed?) the wife of a pilot. Kathryn's husband has flown passenger planes on transatlantic routes for years, and she has grown accustomed to the infrequency and irregularity of his time at home with her and their fifteen-year-old daughter, Mattie. But even though she is used to Jack being away often, nothing could have prepared her for the news she receives in the middle of the night: the plane Jack was piloting has gone down.
This book was hard to read. Not in the way that Ulysses is hard to read without a tour guide, or in the way that reading the Ramayana in the original Sanskrit would be hard for me to read (impossible-style, as I can't read Sanskrit). What I really mean is that this book was hard to read without crying. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant, even painful. Reading about grief is difficult. It's too private. Or maybe it's just me? I don't know, but it really brought me down.
Once I got to the second half of the book, however, I found it almost had a dual personality. It was a relief when Kathryn's mourning released its hold on me. It's not as if the book became happy and funny then; far from it. But as Kathryn gradually found she was no longer quite as mired in despair, perhaps even able to take some tiny steps forward, I myself was able to escape from the Slough of Despond. As secrets unfolded and Kathryn learned more about her husband than she'd ever known before, the tension began to stem from suspense rather than sadness. The story became less grief-stricken and more plot-driven.
So, taking both grief and suspense into account, would I recommend this book? I don't know. I don't think I could ever stand to read it again. But it was well-written, and it definitely held my attention all the way through. Make of that what you will, but be forewarned, and maybe (if you're just dying to try Shreve) read The Last Time They Met instead. I really liked that one.