The Pilot's Wife

( 272 )


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 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 ...
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The Pilot's Wife

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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 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 scrutiny of 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 life?
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
While grieving for her husband, Jack, a pilot who died in a plane crash, Kathryn Lyons discovers that he had a second life she knew nothing about. Torn between her anger and her desire to preserve Jack's memory for their young daughter, Kathryn seeks out Jack's secret: a wife and two children living in England.
Susan Hubbard
Compulsively readable...To create both sympathetic characters and an enticing plot is no small feat, but Shreve does it seamlessly.
Orlando Sentinel
Mike Snyder
An absorbing, inventive tale rendered in fine, original prose.
Houston Chronicle
Rebecca Radner
Highly readable...Shreve is extremely skillful at showing the stages by which someone learns to live with the unthinkable.
San Francisco Chronicle
Kate Callen
Kathryn's emotional quest is masterfully rendered...We go where Shreve leads because the writing is so sure.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Kirkus Reviews
Though sacrificing depth and credibility for speed, Shreve's sixth (The Weight of Water, 1997, etc.) is another suspenseful portrait of a modern marriage rent by betrayal and loss. After her pilot husband's plane blows up off the coast of Ireland, Kathryn discovers bit by bit how little she knew Jack Lyons. First, she faces a media frenzy when the flight recorder makes clear that Jack was carrying a bomb in his flight bag. Her illusions of a her so-called good marriage crumble, despite her belief in the love she and Jack had and the need to keep Jack's memory pure for teenage daughter Mattie. As she navigates the dark days with the priest-like assistance of Robert, the pilot union's grievance expert, Kathryn increasingly feels compelled to come to grips with Jack's hidden life. Following up on a phone number she discovers among his papers, she and Robert go to London, where she finds Jack's other family: Muire, an unrepentant Irish beauty and former flight attendant, and her two young children. By now the plot is fairly screaming IRA bombers!, but instead of guns and M15 surveillance teams we get Kathryn's long, sad walk in the rain and an attempt at consolation by a now-doting Robert. The next morning, Kathryn, still lagging two beats behind the reader, has the whole thing explained to her at breakfast by a remorseful Muire, who's now forced to go on the run. Then Kathryn's staggered by Robert's revelation that he didn't come along just to keep her company but that he's part of the investigation (though he makes no move to detain Muire). Kathryn sulks, but by story's end Robert is back in her good graces, his seeming betrayal well on its way to being forgotten. An evocativebut obvious thriller, rather like a domesticated Patricia Highsmith, that keeps you reading — even as you're regretting the opportunities for intrigue and angst that the narrative consistently ignores.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316601955
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 136,847
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Shreve
Anita Shreve is the author of the novels The Weight of Water, Resistance, Where or When, Strange Fits of Passion and Eden Close.  She has taught at Amherst College and is the recipient of the PEN/L.L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction.  She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and family.  Her most recent book, Fortune's Rocks, is also available from Random House AudioBooks.


Blair Brown received five Emmy nominations for her title role in the television series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.  She has starred on Broadway in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and in the recent revival of Cabaret.


For many readers, the appeal of Anita Shreve’s novels is their ability to combine all of the escapist elements of a good beach read with the kind of thoughtful complexity not generally associated with romantic fiction. Shreve’s books are loaded with enough adultery, eroticism, and passion to make anyone keep flipping the pages, but the writer whom People magazine once dubbed a “master storyteller” is also concerned with the complexities of her characters’ motivations, relationships, and lives.

Shreve’s novels draw on her diverse experiences as a teacher and journalist: she began writing fiction while teaching high school, and was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her story, “Past the Island, Drifting.” She then spent several years working as a journalist in Africa, and later returned to the States to raise her children. In the 1980s, she wrote about women’s issues, which resulted in two nonfiction books -- Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone -- before breaking into mainstream fiction with Eden Close in 1989.

This interest in women’s lives -- their struggles and success, families and friendships -- informs all of Shreve’s fiction. The combination of her journalist’s eye for detail and her literary ear for the telling turn of phrase mean that Shreve can spin a story that is dense, atmospheric, and believable. Shreve incorporates the pull of the sea -- the inexorable tides, the unpredictable surf -- into her characters’ lives the way Willa Cather worked the beauty and wildness of the Midwestern plains into her fiction. In Fortune’s Rocks and The Weight of Water, the sea becomes a character itself, evocative and ultimately consuming. In Sea Glass, Shreve takes the metaphor as far as she can, where characters are tested again and again, only to emerge stronger by surviving the ravages of life.

A domestic sensualist, Shreve makes use of the emblems of household life to a high degree, letting a home tell its stories just as much as its inhabitants do, and even recycling the same house through different books and periods of time, giving it a sort of palimpsest effect, in which old stories burn through the newer ones, creating a historical montage. "A house with any kind of age will have dozens of stories to tell," she says. "I suppose if a novelist could live long enough, one could base an entire oeuvre on the lives that weave in and out of an antique house."

Shreve’s work is sometimes categorized as “women’s fiction,” because of her focus on women’s sensibilties and plights. But her evocative and precise language and imagery take her beyond category fiction, and moderate the vein of sentimentality which threads through her books. Moreover, her kaleidoscopic view of history, her iron grip on the details and detritus of 19th-century life (which she sometimes intersperses with a 20th-century story), and her uncanny ability to replicate 19th-century dialogue without sounding fusty or fussy, make for novels that that are always absorbing and often riveting. If she has a flaw, it is that her imagery is sometimes too cinematic, but one can hardly fault her for that: after all, the call of Hollywood is surely as strong as the call of the sea for a writer as talented as Shreve.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

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 and had he forgotten his keys again?

She sat up and put her feet on the freezing floorboards. She had never understood why the wood of an old house lost its warmth so completely in the winter. Her black leggings had ridden up to the middle of her calves, and the cuffs of the shirt she had slept in, a worn white shirt of Jack's, had unrolled and were hanging past the tips of her fingers. She couldn't hear the knocking anymore, and she thought for a few seconds that she had imagined it. Had dreamed it, in the way she sometimes had dreams from which she woke into other dreams. She reached for the small clock on her bedside table and looked at it: 3:24. She peered more closely at the black face with the glow-in-the-dark dial and then set the clock down on the marble top of the table so hard that the case popped open and a battery rolled under the bed.

But Jack was in London, she told herself again. And Mattie was in bed.

There was another knock then, three sharp raps on glass. A small stoppage in her chest traveled down into her stomach and lay there. In the distance, the dog started up again with short, brittle yips.

She took careful steps across the floor, as if moving too fast might set something in motion that hadn't yet begun. She opened the latch of the bedroom door with a soft click and made her way down the back staircase. She was thinking that her daughter was upstairs and that she should be careful.

She walked through the kitchen and tried to see, through the window over the sink, into the driveway that wound around to the back of the house. She could just make out the shape of an ordinary dark car. She turned the corner into the narrow back hallway, where the tiles were worse than the floorboards, ice on the soles of her feet. She flipped on the back-door light and saw, beyond the small panes set into the top of the door, a man.

He tried not to look surprised by the sudden light. He moved his head slowly to the side, not staring into the glass, as if it were not a polite thing to do, as if he had all the time in the world, as if it were not 3:24 in the morning. He looked pale in the glare of the light. He had hooded eyelids and a widow's peak, hair the color of dust that had been cut short and brushed back at the sides. His topcoat collar was turned up, and his shoulders were hunched. He moved once quickly on the doorstep, stamping his feet. She made a judgment then. The long face, slightly sad; decent clothes; an interesting mouth, the bottom lip slightly curved and fuller than the upper lip: not dangerous. As she reached for the knob, she thought, Not a burglar, not a rapist. Definitely not a rapist. She opened the door.

"Mrs. Lyons?" he asked.

And then she knew.

It was in the way he said her name, the fact that he knew her name at all. it was in his eyes, a wary flicker. The quick breath he took.

She snapped away from him and bent over at the waist. She put a hand to her chest.

He reached his hand through the doorway and touched her at the small of her back.

The touch made her flinch. She tried to straighten up but couldn't.

"When?" she asked.

He took a step into her house and closed the door.

"Earlier this morning," he said.


"About ten miles off the coast of Ireland."

"In the water?"

"No. In the air."

"Oh.…" She brought a hand to her mouth.

"It almost certainly was an explosion," he said quickly.

"You're sure it was Jack?"

He glanced away and then back again.


He caught her elbows as she went down. She was momentarily embarrassed, but she couldn't help it, her legs were gone. She hadn't known that her body could abandon her so, could just give out like that. He held her elbows, but she wanted her arms back. Gently, he lowered her to the floor.

She bent her face to her knees and wrapped her arms over her head. Inside her there was a white noise, and she couldn't hear what he was saying. Consciously, she tried to breathe, to fill up her lungs. She raised her head up and took in great gulps of air. As if in the distance, she heard an odd choking sound that wasn't exactly crying because her face was dry. From behind her, the man was trying to lift her up.

"Let me get you to a chair," he said.

She swung her head from side to side. She wanted him to let her go. She wanted to sink into the tiles, to ooze onto the floor.

Awkwardly, he placed his arms under hers. She let him help her up.

"I'm going to be --," she said.

Quickly, she pushed him away with the palms of her hands and leaned against the wall for support. She coughed and gagged, but there was nothing in her stomach.

When she looked up, she could see that he was apprehensive. He took her by the arm and made her round the corner into the kitchen.

"Sit here in this chair," he said. "Where's the light?"

"On the wall."

Her voice was raspy and faint. She realized she was shivering.

He swiped for the switch and found it. She put a hand up in front of her face to ward off the light. Instinctively, she did not want to be seen.

"Where do you keep the glasses?" he asked.

She pointed to a cabinet. He poured her a glass of water and handed it to her, but she couldn't hold it steady. He braced her fingers while she took a sip.

"You're in shock," he said. "Where can I get you a blanket?"

"You're with the airline," she said.

He took off his topcoat and his jacket and put the jacket around her shoulders. He made her slide her arms into the sleeves, which were surprisingly silky and warm.

"No," he said. "The union."

She nodded slowly, trying to make sense of this.

"Robert Hart," he said, introducing himself.

She nodded again, took another sip of water. Her throat felt dry and sore.

"I'm here to help," he said. "This is going to be difficult to get through. Is your daughter here?"

"You know I have a daughter?" she asked quickly.

And then she thought, Of course you do.

"Would you like me to tell her?" he asked.

Kathryn shook her head.

"They always said the union would get here first," she said. "The wives, I mean. Do I have to wake her now?"

He glanced quickly at his watch, then at Kathryn, as if considering how much time was left to them.

"In a few minutes," he said. "When you're ready. Take your time."

The telephone rang, a serrated edge in the silence of the kitchen. Robert Hart answered it immediately.

"No comment," he said.

"No comment.

"No comment.

"No comment."

She watched him lay the receiver back on its cradle and massage his forehead with his fingers. He had thick fingers and large hands, hands that seemed too big for his body.

She looked at the man's shirt, a white oxford with a gray stripe, but all she could see was a fake plane in a fake sky blowing itself to bits in the distance.

She wanted the man from the union to turn around and tell her that he had made a mistake: He'd gotten the plane wrong; she was the wrong wife; it hadn't happened the way he said it had. She could almost feel the joy of that.

"Is there someone you want me to call?" he asked. "To be with you."

"No," she said. "Yes." She paused. "No."

She shook her head. She wasn't ready yet. She lowered her eyes and fixed them on the cabinet under the sink. What was in it? Cascade. Drano. Pine Sol. Jack's black shoe polish. She bit the inside of her cheek and looked around at the kitchen, at the cracked pine table, the stained hearth behind it, the milk-green Hoosier cabinet. Her husband had shined his shoes in this room not two days ago, his foot braced on a bread drawer he had pulled out for the task. It was often the last thing he did before he left for work. She would sit and watch him from the chair, and lately it had become a kind of ritual, a part of his leaving her.

It had always been hard for her, his leaving the house -- no matter how much work she had to do, no matter how much she looked forward to having time to herself. And it wasn't that she had been afraid. She hadn't been in the habit of being fearful. Safer than driving a car, he'd always said, and he'd had an offhand confidence, as though his safety were not even worthy of a conversation. No, it wasn't exactly safety. It was the act of leaving itself, of Jack's removing himself from the house, that had always been difficult. She often felt, watching him walk out of the door with his thick, boxy flight bag in one hand and his overnight bag in the other, his uniform cap tucked under his arm, that he was, in some profound way, separating from her. And, of course, he was. He was leaving her in order to take a 170-ton airplane into the air and across the ocean to London or to Amsterdam or to Nairobi. It wasn't a particularly hard feeling to sort out, and within moments it would pass. Sometimes Kathryn would become so accustomed to his absence that she bristled at the change in her routines when he returned. And then, three or four days later, the cycle would begin again.

She didn't think Jack had ever felt the coming and going in quite the same way she had. To leave, after all, was not the same as being left.

I'm just a glorified bus driver, he used to say.

And not all that glorified, he would add.

Used to say. She tried to take it in. She tried to understand that Jack no longer existed. But all she could see were cartoon puffs of smoke, lines drawn outward in all directions. She let the image go as quickly as it had come.

"Mrs. Lyons? Is there a television in another room that I could keep half an eye on?" Robert Hart asked.

"In the front room," she said, pointing.

"I just need to hear what they're reporting now."

"It's fine," she said. "I'm fine."

He nodded, but he seemed reluctant. She watched him leave the room. She shut her eyes and thought: I absolutely cannot tell Mattie.

Already, she could imagine how it would be. She would open the door to Mattie's room, and on the wall there would be posters of Less Than Jake and extreme skiing in Colorado. On the floor would be two or three days' worth of inside-out clothes. Mattie's sports equipment would be propped up in a corner -- her skis and poles, her snowboard, her field hockey and lacrosse sticks. Her bulletin board would be covered with cartoons and pictures of her friends: Taylor, Alyssa, and Kara, fifteen-year-old girls with ponytails and long hair wisps in the front. Mattie would be huddled under her blue-and-white comforter and would pretend not to hear her until Kathryn said her name for the third time. Then Mattie would bolt upright, at first irritated to be woken, thinking it was time for school and wondering why Kathryn had moved into the room. Mattie's hair, a sandy red with metallic threads -- would be spread along the shoulders of a purple T-shirt that said "Ely Lacrosse" in white letters across her tiny breasts. She would put her hands behind her on the mattress and hold herself up.

"What is it, Mom?" she would say.

Like that.

"What is it, Mom?"

And then again, her voice instantly more high pitched.

"Mom, what is it?"

And Kathryn would have to kneel beside the bed and would have to tell her daughter what had happened.

"No, Mom!" Mattie would cry.

"No! Mom!"


When Kathryn opened her eyes, she could hear the low murmur of the television.

She got up from the kitchen chair and walked into the long front room with its six pairs of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lawn and the water. There was a Christmas tree in the corner that stopped her at the threshold. Robert Hart was hunched forward on the sofa, and an old man was being interviewed on the TV. She had missed the beginning of the report. It was CNN or maybe CBS. Robert looked quickly over at her.

"Are you sure you want to watch this?" he asked.

"Please," she said. "I'd rather see."

She entered the room and moved closer to the television.

It was raining where the old man was, and later they printed the name of the place along the bottom of the screen. Malin Head, Ireland. She couldn't picture where it might be on a map. She didn't even know which Ireland it was in. Rain dripped from the old man's cheeks, and he had long white pouches under his eyes. The camera moved away and showed a village green with pristine white facades of buildings fronting it. In the center of the row of buildings was a sad-looking hotel, and she read the name along a thin marquee: Malin Hotel. There were men standing around its doorway with mugs of tea or coffee in their hands, looking over in a shy way at all the news crews. The camera slid back to the old man and moved in close to his face. He looked shocky around the eyes, and his mouth was hanging open, as though it was hard for him to breathe. Kathryn watched him on the television, and she thought: That is what I look like now. Gray in the face. The eyes staring out at something that isn't even there. The mouth loose like that of a hooked fish.

The interviewer, a dark-haired woman with a black umbrella, asked the old man to describe what he had seen.

It were moonlight with dark water, he said haltingly.

His voice was hoarse, his accent so thick they had to print what he was saying at the bottom of the screen.

There were bits of silver falling from the sky and landing all around the boat, he said.

The bits fluttered like


Birds that were wounded.

Falling downward.

Spiraling, like, and spinning.

She walked to the TV and knelt on the carpet so that her face was even with the old man's on the screen. The fisherman was waving his hands around to show what he meant. He made a cone shape and moved his fingers up and down and then drew a ragged edge. He told the interviewer that none of the strange bits had actually landed in his boat and that by the time he had motored to the places where it seemed the things had fallen, they had disappeared or sunk into the sea and he could not get at them, not even with his nets.

Facing the camera, the reporter said that the man's name was Eamon Gilley. He was eighty-three, she said, and he was the first eyewitness to come forward. No one else appeared to have seen what the fisherman had seen, and nothing had been confirmed yet. Kathryn had the feeling that the reporter wanted very much for Gilley's story to be true but felt obliged to say that it might not be.

But Kathryn knew that it was true. She could see the moonlight on the sea, the way it must have twitched and sparkled, the silvery glints falling from the sky, falling, falling, like tiny angels coming down to earth. She could see the small boat in the water and the fisherman standing at its bow -- his face turned upward toward the moon, his hands outstretched. She could see him risk his balance to catch the fluttering bits, poking the air like a small child grabbing for fireflies on a summer night. And she thought then how strange it was that disaster -- the sort of disaster that drained the blood from your body and took the air out of your lungs and hit you again and again in the face -- could be, at times, such a thing of beauty.

Robert reached over and turned off the television.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"When did you say it happened?"

He rested his elbows on his knees and folded his hands

"One fifty-seven. Our time. Six fifty-seven theirs."

Above his right eyebrow, there was a scar. He must be late thirties, she thought, closer to her age than to Jack's. He had the fair skin of a blond and brown eyes with flecks of rust in the irises. Jack had had blue eyes, two different blues -- one a washed-out blue, almost translucent, a watercolor sky; the other brilliant, a sharp royal. The unusual coloring drew others' eyes to his, made people examine his face as though this metrical characteristic suggested imbalance, perhaps something wrong.

She thought: Is this the man's job?

"That was the time of the last transmission," the man from the union said in a voice she could hardly hear.

"What was the last transmission?" she asked.

"It was routine."

She didn't believe him. What was routine about a last transmission?

"Do you know," she asked, "what the most common last words are from a pilot when he knows he's going down? Well, of course you know."

"Mrs. Lyons," he said, turning to her.


"You're still in shock. You should have some sugar. Is there juice?"

"In the fridge. It was a bomb, wasn't it?"

"I wish I had more to tell you."

He stood up and walked into the kitchen. She realized that she didn't want to be left alone in a room just yet, and so she followed him. She looked at the clock over the sink. 3:38. Was it possible that only fourteen minutes had elapsed since she had peered at the clock on the night table upstairs?

"You got here fast," she said, sitting again on the kitchen chair.

He poured orange juice into a glass.

"How did you do it?" she asked.

"We have a plane," he said quietly.

"No. I mean, tell me. How is it done? You have a plane waiting? You sit around waiting for a crash?"

He handed her the glass of juice. He leaned against the sink and ran the middle finger of his right hand vertically along his brow, from the bridge of his nose to his hairline. He seemed to be making decisions then, judgments.

"No, I don't," he said. "I don't sit around waiting for a crash. But if one occurs, we have procedures in place. We have a Lear jet at Washington National. It flies me to the nearest major airport. In this case, Portsmouth."

"And then?"

"And then there's a car waiting."

"And you did it in..."

She calculated the time it would take him to travel from Washington, which was where the union headquarters was, to Ely, New Hampshire, just over the Massachusetts border.

"A little over an hour," he said.

"But why?" she asked.

"To get here first," he said. "To inform you. To help you through it."

"That's not why," she said quickly.

He thought a minute.

"It's part of it," he said.

She smoothed her hand over the cracked surface of the pine table. On nights when Jack had been home, Jack and she and Mattie had seemed to live within a ten-foot radius of that table -- reading the paper, listening to the news, cooking, eating, cleaning up, doing homework, and then, after Mattie had gone to bed, talking or not talking, and sometimes, if Jack didn't have a trip, sharing a bottle of wine. In the beginning, when Mattie was little and early to bed, they had sometimes had candlelight and made love in the kitchen, one or the other of them seized by a sudden lust or fondness.

She tilted her head back and shut her eyes. The pain seemed to stretch from her abdomen to her throat. She felt panicky, as though she had strayed too close to the edge. She drew in her breath so sharply that Robert looked over at her.

And then she moved from shock to grief the way she might enter another room.

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. The drape of his arm around Mattie after her last field hockey game, when Mattie was sticky and sweaty and crying because her team had lost eight-zip. The pale skin on the inside of Jack's arms. The slightly pitted skin between his shoulder blades, a legacy of adolescence. The odd tenderness of his feet, the way he couldn't walk along a beach without sneakers. The warmth of him always, even on the coldest of nights, as though his inner furnace burned extravagantly. The images pushed and jostled and competed rudely with each other for space. She tried to stop them, but she couldn't.

The man from the union stood at the sink and watched her. He didn't move.

"I loved him," she said when she could speak.

She got up and ripped a sheet of paper towel from its holder. She blew her nose. She felt a momentary bewilderment of tenses. She wondered if time were opening up an envelope and would swallow her -- for a day or a week or a month or possibly forever.

"I know," said Robert.

"Are you married?" she asked, sitting down again.

He put his hands in the pockets of his trousers and jiggled the change there. He had on gray suit trousers. Jack hardly ever wore a suit. Like many men who wore a uniform to work, he had never been a particularly good dresser.

"No," he said. "I'm divorced."

"Do you have children?"

"Two boys. Nine and six."

"Do they live with you?"

"With my wife in Alexandria. Ex-wife."

"Do you see them much?"

"I try."

"Why did you get divorced?"

"I stopped drinking," he said.

He said this matter-of-factly, without explanation. She wasn't sure she understood. She blew her nose again.

"I have to call the school," she said. "I'm a teacher."

"That can wait," he said. "No one will be there anyway. No one is awake yet." He looked at his watch.

"Tell me about your job," she said.

"There isn't a lot to tell. It's mostly public relations."

"How many of these things have you had to do?" she asked.


"Crashes," she said. "Crashes."

He was silent for a minute.

"Five," he said finally. "Five major ones."


"And four smaller ones."

"Tell me about them," she said.

He glanced out the window. Thirty seconds passed. Maybe a minute. Again she sensed that he was making judgments, decisions.

"Once I got to the widow's house," he said, "and I found her in bed with another man."

"Where was this?"

"Westport. Connecticut."

"What happened?"

"The wife came down in a robe, and I told her, and then the man got dressed and came down. He was a neighbor. And then he and I stood in the woman's kitchen and watched her collapse. It was a mess."

"Did you know him?" Kathryn asked. "My husband?"

"No," he said. "I'm sorry."

"He was older than you."

I know."

What else did they tell you about him?"

"Eleven years with Vision. Before that, Santa Fe, five years. Before that, Teterboro, two years. Two years Vietnam, DC-3 gunships. Born in Boston. College, Holy Cross. One child, a daughter, fifteen. A wife."

He thought a minute.

"Tall," he said. "Six-four? Fit."

She nodded.

"Good record. Excellent record, actually."

He scratched the back of one hand with the other.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry I know these facts about your husband yet didn't know him at all."

"Did they tell you anything about me?"

"Only that you're fifteen years younger than your husband. And that you'd be here with your daughter."

She examined her feet, which were small and white, as if the blood had left them. The soles weren't clean.

"How many were on board?" she asked.

"A hundred and four."

"Not full," she said.

"Not full, no."

"Any survivors?"

"They're searching...."

Other images intruded now. A moment of knowledge -- what knowledge? -- in the cockpit. Jack's hands at the controls. A body spinning in the air. No. Not even a body. She shook her head roughly.

"I have to tell her alone," she said.

He nodded quickly, as if that were already understood.

"No," she said. "I mean you have to leave the house. I don't want anyone to see this or hear this."

"I'll sit in my car," he said.

She slipped off the jacket he had given her. The telephone rang again, but neither of them moved. In the distance, they could hear the answering machine click on.

She wasn't prepared for Jack's voice, deep and amiable, a hint of Boston in the vowels, with its familiar message. She put her face into her hands and waited for the message to be over.

When she looked up, she saw that Robert had been studying her. He glanced away.

"It's to keep me from talking to the press, isn't it?" she said. "That's why you're here."

A car rolled into the driveway and crunched on the gravel. The man from the union looked out the window, took the jacket from her, and put it on.

"It's so I won't say anything that might make them think pilot error," she said. "You don't want them to think pilot error."

He lifted the telephone receiver off its hook and laid it on the counter.

Lately, Jack and she had hardly ever made love in the kitchen. They had told themselves that Mattie was older now and might come down to the kitchen looking for a snack. Most nights, after Mattie had gone up to her room to listen to her CDs or to talk on the phone, they had just sat at the table reading magazines, too exhausted to put away the dishes or even to talk.

"I'll tell her now," she said.

He hesitated.

"You understand we can't stay out there long," he said.

"They're from the airline, aren't they?" she asked, looking through the kitchen window. In the driveway, she could just make out two shadowy shapes emerging from a car. She walked toward the bottom of the stairs.

She looked up the steep incline. There were five hundred steps, at least five hundred. They stretched on and on. She understood that something had been set in motion and was beginning now. She was not sure she had the stamina to make it to the top.

She looked at the man from the union, who was moving through the kitchen to answer the door.

"Mom," she said, and he turned. "What they usually say is Mom."

Copyright © 1998 by Anita Shreve. All rights reserved.

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Reading Group Guide

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 contribute to the marital problems? How did they each react to the difficulties?

3. Was Robert's betrayal the worst of all, as Kathryn thinks to herself? Who betrayed whom in this novel? Can you ever love someone who has betrayed you?

4. When Kathryn throws her wedding ring into the ocean, she thinks to herself: To be relieved of love is to give up a terrible burden. Do you agree?

5. Regarding Jack's religion or lack of it, he appeared to be quite divided. Was he assuming religious beliefs just to please the women he was with? How does his religious division give us clues to his character?

6. How do the memories and thoughts Jack and Kathryn each have about their respective mothers influence their views of marriage?

7. The theme of disaster is central to the story. Not just the physical disaster of the crash, or even the disaster to the family that Jack's death produces; but the disaster that unfolds as Kathryn learns the truth of Jack's double life and many secrets. How does the passage from the bottom of page 13 relate to the disasters?

8. "and she thought then....such a thing of beauty." Could this passage also be used at the end of the book? Is there beauty in disaster?

9. What devices does Shreve use to make her novel such a compelling read? Consider the flashbacks, the action, the style of language and word choice, and character painting.

10. Do you think the reason Jack couldn't be honest with Kathryn about his mother and his life with Muire was not so much because of his love for Kathryn, but more because he didn't want to repeat what his mother did and subject his child to what he went through? In what ways do Kathryn and Jack repeat their respective mother's mistakes?

11. Muire revealed the whole truth to Kathryn about Jack's secret life. How did this confession help Kathryn find the answers to her questions about how "real" her marriage was? Who is the "real wife?" (p. 275) What constitutes a 'real wife'? Do we continue to think that Kathryn is the 'real' wife, because this is her story, or Muire for accepting the truth about Kathryn?

12. As the story progresses Kathryn gradually pieces together mysteries of her husband's life from the facts that come to light following Jack's death. At the same time she is trying to understand the pieces of her own life. Does Kathryn and Jack's house, originally inhabited by nuns retreating from the world, play a significant part in this story? In what way was the house that Kathryn and Jack lived in for 11 years a metaphor for their relationship? Discuss the significance of Kathryn's discovery of the site of the Sisters' Chapel at the end of the book.

13. At what point in the story did you figure out that Jack was having an affair? Were you suspicious when Kathryn found the receipt for the bath robe, or the note in his pocket? Did you want to believe Kathryn's suspicions?

14. Discuss the differences between Kathryn's relationship to Jack and Mattie's to him. Which relationship seemed more honest? Which relationship seemed stronger? As a mother, is Kathryn obligated, at some future time, to share full knowledge of Jack with Mattie?

15. Do you think The Pilot's Wife would make a good film? If so, why? Who would you cast as the major characters in the film version? Why?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 272 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 273 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2011

    Loved this book!

    This book got me hooked from the first page. It is the kind of book that you don't want to put down. The story is very emotional and dramatic, really pulling you in to the story. I have a tendency to guess the endings of books before they happen, but this one actually surprised me! I highly recommend it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2012


    I purchased the book but it only gave me the first 12 pages. Horrible

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2011

    loved it

    very good!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    Don't think I would recommend this book.

    It was good not great. A little disappointed. It just took too long to get into the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2012


    I was so mesmerized reading this book, I completely lost track of time. I read it in one afternoon. It was so beautifully written. The agony, the grief and the betrayal that Kathryn and her family felt was so vividly portrayed, that I found
    myself immersed in their grief. How one selfish man could lead a dangerous infused double life and not foresee the terrible consequences to both families he professed to love. It seems that his love was stronger towards his second wife than Kathryn. I felt for her and was glad Robert was there to help her heal. I hope readers will love this book as much as I did. Maybe this author will write a sequel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2012

    Predictable read

    This is an okay book-seemed predictable, not a must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

    Very Good

    Very Good

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  • Posted January 22, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Katelyn Hensel for Readers' Favorite A poignant sto

    Reviewed by Katelyn Hensel for Readers' Favorite

    A poignant story that at times became too painful to read, The Pilot's Wife is more than a drama - it's a mystery, a love story, a hate story, and so much more. Kathryn knows what to expect when men come knocking on her door late at night. Her husband Jack's death hits her like a wall, but that is nothing compared to the second blow of a hinted-at second life. Still wounded by his death and struggling to find herself and the truth, Kathryn sets off to find out who her husband really was. In a very well written novel, Shreve helps you feel every nuance of Kathryn's emotional journey, and the imagery was stark and beautiful. 

    One of the biggest elements of the book was kind of a bleak cynicism about other people. It seems so easy for Jack to lead a separate life and to have possibly committed suicide and killed a ton of people. While the writing was detailed and beautiful in itself, the feeling and tone at the end is one of sadness. Anita Shreve really knows how to emote through her language.

    Not sure if this is a criticism or praise, but you can definitely tell that this is an Anita Shreve book. She has a style, a flavor, and almost a formula that she sticks to and doesn't usually alter. Listening to the audio book was an unexpected surprise, as the narrator gave a very colorful and expressive detailing of the text. I enjoyed the cant and character changes very well and found that I fell into the story much more than usual with an Anita Shreve book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 20, 2013

    Highly recommend - very good book

    This was a great book; I highly recommend it. Anita Shreve is a great writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2013


    Excellent, could not stop reading it, constant surprises. This is worth a purchase.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    First, I don't know what the heck I was thinking when I bought t

    First, I don't know what the heck I was thinking when I bought this book. I'm sure if there was a miraculous way to go back, find my receipts from that day ... I would also find a receipt for a 12 pack of Corona hours before buying this book. I AM TERRIFIED OF FLYING! What on Earth made me say, "Hmm... a book about a plane crash. I'll take it!" Seriously, there are parts that they are describing finding pieces of the plane and I was sweating so profusely you would have thought I just completed a triathlon.

    That being said, other than me looking like I had some sort of perspiration disorder, I really enjoyed this book. It was one of those books that you'd be reading along and do a page count, and pow! You've read seventy pages in what felt like ten minutes. I was totally wrapped up in the story line. I had my suspicions of how elements of this story would sort itself out, and most of those came true.

    At the end, I was sad because I wanted the story to go on and on. I wanted to see how Kathryn and her daughter would continue to put their life back together. I was a little taken aback by the end, which seemed to come abruptly ... but as I said, this book flows right along. The end is one of those that give you a cliffhanger feeling and let's you imagine what would happen next instead of blatantly telling you what the author thought. You know, like at the end of Castaway (another horrific plane crash scenario! GEEZ!), he delivers that package and then drives out to the end of the road, the movie ends and you're saying "But, but, but....". Or Gone With The Wind, when Rhett leaves and Scarlett wants him back. (Margaret Mitchell totally wanted those two to get back together. Those of you who think Rhett would have never gone back... shame on you.)

    I think once I finish this mission, I will probably load up on some more books from Anita Shreve. Totally digging her writing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    It's OK

    Not a bad read.
    Gets better as it goes along.
    Some parts have way too much description.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 30, 2013

    I had to stop reading this book even though I am such a huge fan

    I had to stop reading this book even though I am such a huge fan of Anita Shreve. The book was slow and very depressing. This is one I would not recommend to others to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Slow at first

    This book took me a while to get into and even when it did have my attention, it slowed back down at times. But still, I wanted to see how everything played out.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    Lovely read

    Enjoyed the writing and it was a great book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    Alright book

    Interesting. A bit unbelievable but maybe expected too much since it was an Oprah bookclub book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2012

    Grear read

    Amust read

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2011

    Interesting quick read

    Once I started reading this book, I couldn't stop. The writing was good and the story kept me interested, but it also infuriated me at the same time.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2011

    Great read

    This book is very good and possibly her best. I couldn't put it down.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good Idea!

    I like others thought this was a good idea but I also found it very predictable. They definitely could have added drama. I was waiting for it but it never really came. I found the characters pretty dull and lacking personality. Its a shame because this could have been a good book.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 273 Customer Reviews

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