An Iowa farm girl who becomes the wife of an early aviator finds lifetime inspiration in the parallel track of Anne Morrow Lindbergh—in Hughes’s biographically nostalgic first novel.
Hughes recounts in flashback the story of a marriage begun in the ’30s and concluded sadly with the disappearance of the couple in their 80s on a round-the-world flying trip. Only daughter Ruth Sheehan of Cedar Bluff, Iowa, wants desperately to go to college and do something with her life, but she’s stuck out on the farm with her stern, aging parents when the young Air Mail pilot Henry Gutterson falls from the sky and into their cornfield. Ruth’s parents won’t pay for college and, indeed, expect nothing more from their daughter than that she marry a farmer and inherit their land. In letters to barnstormer Ruth Law, then to Mrs. Lindbergh, wife of world-famous Charles Lindbergh, Ruth vents her frustration—yet she falls in love with Henry and marries him gladly, since it’s through him and his stories of flying that Ruth sees the world. Hughes’s straightforward, rather bland narrative is told alternately from Ruth’s and then Henry’s point of view (as when a paralyzing depression seizes Ruth upon the death of her second child), and, much later, from their grown children’s: John and Margaret, who must piece together the puzzle of their missing parents. Poignantly, Ruth’s letters to Mrs. Lindbergh—who also navigated for her husband, then suffered the tragic loss of a child—fill in the emotional core of Ruth’s life as she finds peace in her incompletion. “She was always feeling, feeling, feeling,” Mrs. Lindbergh writes in the one reply—too late!—that she does send. Hughes’s tale aims to tear-jerk, but before tears the reader has to wrestle with a lot of dull accumulated detritus and not terrifically compelling prose.
On balance, an often touching tale of lovable grandparents that reads too much like a biography.