What subjects does the novel The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve explore?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The 1998 novel The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve has a plot structure that revolves around the mystery of a plane crash. The protagonist, Kathryn Lyons, is the "pilot's wife" of the title, and serves as the viewpoint character for the novel. The novel begins with Robert Hart informing Kathryn that her husband Jack's plane has crashed. As the novel progresses, we learn about the marriage in flashbacks. Kathryn, on a quest to find out more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Jack's death, discovers many aspects of Jack she was not aware of during their marriage.

The main subject or theme the novel addresses is, in Kathryn's words:

"How do you ever know that you know a person?"

On the surface, we have what seems like a perfect marriage, with Jack an apolitical family man who enjoys sports, but underneath that is Jack's thrill-seeking and sense of adventure which lead him to an adulterous relationship with the Irish woman Muire and involvement with the IRA.

The second major theme is sexual relationships. A key element in and emblem of the growing estrangement between Jack and Kathryn, which she gradually comes to understand after his death, is a decline in their level of physical intimacy. At the same time Kathryn is thinking about this, she discovers that her teenage daughter, Mattie, has become sexually active, but that rather than stemming from love, it was mainly motivated by curiosity, something that worries Kathryn.

Another subject that shapes the plot of the novel is the relationship between Irish-Americans and Ireland. In a certain way, Jack's love for Muire is emblematic of his connection to and love for Ireland itself.

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The Pilot's Wife

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