I WAS AMELIA EARHART by Jane Mendelsohn


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 First-novelist Mendelsohn gives us Amelia Earhart's fictive autobiography, written as a message in a bottle from the desert island on which she spent her last days. We're kept pretty close to the facts here for most of the story: Earhart's flying, her marriage to New York publisher G.P. Putnam, her ambiguous sexuality, and her celebrity as a public figure are all components of this putative memoir, which proceeds as a straightforward recollection of the past. The central narrative event is the planning and execution of Earhart's final around-the-world flight, presented here mostly as a publicity stunt gone awry. ``After I flew across the Atlantic and became famous, G.P. decided to mold me into a star.'' And how: Once Putnam became Earhart's husband and manager, every aspect of her career was choreographed for maximum public exposure. Flight logs were written for publication, press conferences and radio communications were recorded for the archives, and itineraries were chosen with a view toward public titillation. On a crucial leg of the final flight in 1937, however, Putnam's skill as a showman becomes Earhart's undoing when the tiny Pacific island where she was meant to make a daring stopover can't be located, forcing her to ditch on an even smaller desert atoll where she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, are out of radio range and cut off from the rest of the world. The later, Robinson Crusoe-like portions of Earhart's account are written under the heavy weight of her solitude, and the inevitable affair with Noonan does little to relieve the intensity of the fear and nostalgia that color the account toward the close. The melancholy tone of the opening is completed splendidly in the flat stoicism of the end. Strange, slight, but wonderful: a modest portrait that manages to create some moments of exceptional intensity and power of feeling.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-45054-8
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996


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