Melanie Benjamin tells readers she was compelled to write “The Aviator’s Wife” (2013), to help people become familiar with “the truly operatic scale of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s life and marriage.” Yet readers will have to accept a blurred line between fact and fiction because Benjamin says she writes for readers of historical fiction who foremost expect a compelling story. “I don’t let facts get in the way of my imagination and my exploration of the subject’s emotions and relationships,” she says.
Anne Morrow’s story began as a fairy tale. In 1927 the shy young woman, still in college, met Charles Lindbergh, the tall, handsome hero who had just flown across the Atlantic alone in a single engine plane. He was four years older, sure of what he wanted from life and courted by kings and presidents. Anne was swept away by his attention to her and the exciting life he offered, so they married two years later and became the couple that enchanted the world.
The Lindbergh marriage, though, had some dark periods and through exhaustive research, Benjamin elaborates on them in a compelling way. Most striking is the tragic story of the kidnapping and death of their 20-month-old son, Charles Jr. The couple’s anguish and the intrusive media frenzy it ignited are portrayed in horrifying detail.
Benjamin also clarifies for readers another low point for the couple in the late 1930s, when Charles fell from grace because of his appearance as a Nazi sympathizer, making controversial statements and urging President Roosevelt to stay out of the war. He used Anne’s ability as a writer to promote his ideas under her name so she too was the target of hateful words and acts.
But the liveliest fodder for book club discussions may come from the story of Anne’s personal journey as a talented woman in her own right, and her roles as wife and mother over the course of the 20th century — from the early years when Anne discovered that she and her distant husband had completely different expectations for her in their marriage to the final years of their marriage when she learned of Charles’ other relationships and the children from them.
While Anne remained at home caring for their five children, Charles was gone for long periods of time. Her musings from those years, which she wrote up in her book “Gift from the Sea,” have been inspirational for generations of women and are considered a seminal feminist work. She is the Lindbergh you will want to learn more about.