Day 868: Flight of Dreams

Cover for Flight of DreamsI liked Ariel Lawhon’s first book only moderately but enough so that I was willing to give her second book a try. Since the ending of the first book redeemed what I initially considered a mediocre novel, I was trying to hold out for the ending of this one. That being said, after more than 160 pages, I gave up on Flight of Dreams.

The novel is about the flight of the Hindenburg on its way from Germany to the U. S. on the trip that ends with its explosion. The novel has a large cast of characters, passengers and crew. Many of the characters have secrets, including a couple on some sort of mission, a thief who has deeper motives, and a Jewish woman attempting to leave Germany.

In what Lawhon was attempting, this novel reminded me of Dead Wake, Erik Larson’s nonfiction book about the sinking of the Lusitania. Frankly, Dead Wake built up a lot more suspense. The pace of this novel truly drags. At more than 400 pages, we follow practically every second of four days. By page 168, where I stopped, the book had only reached breakfast on the second day. Since the Hindenburg departed in the evening, I knew I was in trouble.

Perhaps there are too many characters in the novel. We see the actions from five points of view, but there is no distinct voice that differentiates them one from the other. Each narrative point of view sounds the same. Further distance is created by the chapter names, which continue to refer to the characters by their roles (the American, the Stewardess) even after we know their names.

What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t care about Max and Emilie’s romance or what was going on with the Adelts or what the American was up to. I keep making this complaint, but it seems as though some authors don’t know that part of their job is to get readers to care about what happens, not just put characters through their paces. The most notable novels I have read in recent years (or maybe ever) have all shared one trait—they have all had a distinctive voice.

link to NetgalleyFinally, some of the scenes between people play like TV melodrama. I’m thinking of the fight between the Adelts over Gertrud going to the bar and a scene where Emilie kisses a man she doesn’t care for in front of Max. These scenes seem like simply (hackneyed) devices to move the plot, not as if they are originating from the realistic behavior of a character. As far as I was concerned, the Hindenburg could have blown up 300 pages earlier.

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Day 435: Literary Wives: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

Cover for The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressToday is another Literary Wives posting, where along with several other bloggers, I post reviews of the same book with the theme of “wives.” For more information, see my Literary Wives page.

The famous disappearance of Judge Crater, who like Jimmy Hoffa was never heard from again, certainly has potential for a noirish whodunnit. I just wasn’t that satisfied with Ariel Lawhon’s version of the story.

For one thing, although the plot has all the elements of a noir mystery, the writing style doesn’t reflect the cold crispness and snappy dialogue I expect from noir. It is merely pedestrian.

At the beginning of the novel, Judge Crater’s wife Stella meets Jude Simon, the detective who was on the case, years later in 1969 to give him a confession. Then we return in time to 1930. The bulk of the novels flits restlessly between different days and times around and before this period, returning occasionally to 1969 to Stella and Jude’s meeting.

This time shifting was one of my problems with the novel. I do not remember dates readily, and it was difficult for me to keep my place in time. Possibly a fault that will be cleared up in the published book (I was reading an advanced reading copy) is the problem of the dates at the beginning of sections, which sometimes are there to signal a change in time and sometimes are not. The first time the time changed with no indication, I thought it was a mistake, but then it happened several more times.

In addition, a few scenes that return to an earlier time have no apparent purpose. Perhaps they are intended to establish something about the Craters’ relationship, but I find them unnecessary to the story. The example that comes to mind is a dinner scene where the judge tells Stella where he wants her to shop from then on.

For the plot, the judge disappears at the beginning of the book. His mistress Ritzi is hiding in the room when he is taken, so it is no surprise to find out who took him. His wife Stella and their maid Maria also have some guilty knowledge. Maria sees her husband Jude plant some money in the house after the judge’s disappearance, and Stella removes money from the house and all their assets from the bank before reporting the judge as missing.

Overall, I found the novel mildly entertaining. It does manage a surprise at the end, which I didn’t expect because the novel seemed otherwise predictable. I also think more could have been done to make the time period and the setting more evocative.

Now to our questions for Literary Wives.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

There are two prominent wives in the novel–Stella and Maria. The judge sees his wife’s role as being an ornament and an asset on his way to the top, and Stella seems to have agreed to take this role, although she obviously has lost her respect for him over time. There are some references to happier times, but we frankly can’t see that he has any redeeming qualities. Stella’s only other concern seems to be to make sure she has money after the judge’s disappearance.

Maria’s relationship is more loving. She seems to see her role as to protect and support her husband and to try to become a mother. However, we don’t really see very much of Jude and Maria together, and Jude seems to be preoccupied with his difficulties at work.

In what way does this woman define “wife” or is defined by “wife”?

Except for one central act, which I don’t want to give away, both women are essentially defined by their roles as wives, which are fairly stereotypical for the time. Stella is the society wife. Maria is the religious little woman. This defining act tells us there is more to both of them, but we don’t really understand these women very well as people, and this act is only revealed at the end of the novel, giving us no opportunity to view them in another way. I think Ritzi is the most fully developed character, and although she is actually a wife as well, that part of her character isn’t really explored.

Be sure to view the posts of the other “wives,” as follows. An interview with Ariel Lawhon is posted on Audra’s blog, Unabridged Chick.

Ariel of One Little Library
Audra of Unabridged Chick
Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Cecilia of Only You
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors