'The Aviator's Wife' author Melanie Benjamin is drawn to 'locked doors and hidden closets'
Melanie Benjamin, author of a new novel about Charles Lindbergh's wife Anne, discusses her interest in women who have 'kind of fallen off the public's collective consciousness.'
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Q: How do you think readers will perceive Charles's sometimes harsh treatment of his wife and family?
A: Charles is a challenging character, there's no doubt about it, a very difficult man, and I think because Anne is the heroine of my book, Charles is the conflict. You have to introduce conflict in a book and in this book, I think it is her husband.
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So certainly, he's a hard man to completely admire and definitely, I intended him to be a difficult, challenging character, but that said, I did have a lot of sympathy for him. If you look at his life through the prism of the kidnapping and his inability to bring his child home, I think that ... never excuses, but it does let you look at his actions after that through a maybe more understanding light.
But still, he was a very difficult man and I'm sure readers are going to see that part of him.
Q: One thing that the novel shows is how intensely the press covered the couple – even publishing a map to their house. How do you think the Lindberghs' life, and even their marriage, would have been different without that unrelenting scrutiny?
A: Gosh, I think the kidnapping wouldn't have happened. And their marriage, you have to think it would have been smoother. That's just one of those what-ifs of history that it's so big, I can't even begin to comprehend it. Certainly their lives would have been different.
They would not have gone to Europe. And had they not gone to Europe, would Charles have been so outspoken against involvement in the war? Maybe not. There's a whole line of things that might not have happened.
Q: Was it difficult for you separating Charles' endorsement of Hitler from what you knew was ahead historically?
A: That's always a challenge of historical fiction. You have to be in the moment. Even though we can look back in hindsight, a historical novelist has to be able to ignore that and to understand the moment and to lose our modern sensibilities and knowledge and just be in the moment of that time, and I think that's what makes a successful historical novelist.
I think that's why some people cannot enjoy historical fiction.
But I definitely researched the period and discovered that there were so many people who were bamboozled by Hitler. Erik Larson's newest book, "In the Garden of Beasts," is all about that time and when you read that, you really understand the dog-and-pony show that Hitler was putting on for everybody.
If you do your research and you have an imagination and are able to totally enter into a different time, it's not as difficult. But again, I don't think it's for everyone.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects that you're working on right now?
I do. My editor has me on tight wraps. But I am able to say it is a story of two remarkable women who did live, but this time I guarantee you have never heard of them. It's a very obscure nugget of history that is long, long lost to us, and it is set in colonial America.
That's all I can say. It's a different time for me, not one I'm very familiar with, so the research has been quite fun.
Q: Are you still in the research period right now?
I'm done with most of it, so I am in the middle of writing the book, but obviously, the research is never done. Sometimes you'll be writing away and you'll realize you need to know, "How long did it take to journey by wagon?" You can't magically make people appear. So there's always a lot of research going on.