Publishers Weekly (review date 18 March 1996)
SOURCE: A review of I Was Amelia Earhart, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 243, No. 12, March 18, 1996, pp. 57-8.
[In the following review, the critic praises Mendelsohn's first novel and calls her a writer to watch.]
[In I Was Amelia Earhart,] past and present, fact and fiction, first-person and third blend into a life of the celebrated aviatrix—both before and after her famed disappearance in 1937, at age 39—that unfolds with the surreal precision of a dream and that marks first novelist Mendelsohn as a writer to watch. "The sky is flesh," begins the first of the scores of discrete vignettes and reflections that make up the narrative, an apt start to a story drenched in sensuality and the pursuit of it. The Earhart limned here is materialistic, glory-seeking, sexually hungry, outrageously self-absorbed and utterly charismatic. Telling her tale with ruthless honesty in both her own voice and that of the self she sees "from far away … ghostly, aerial," she speaks of her days as America's sweetheart, as the wife of publisher G. P. Putnam. Diverting from the historical record, she also speaks of the years after she and her navigator, Frederick J. Noonan, "a drunk," crashland on a South Sea island that they name "Heaven, as a kind of joke," but that becomes a decent approximation as the years slip by and the castaways discover happiness in nature and in each other's arms. When rescue seems eminent, Earhart and Noonan take to the air one last time, and crash one last time, perhaps into eternity but in any case into an existence defined not by control but by "abandonment"—a message in keeping with the story's theme but in fact an ironic one for a novel as calculatedly lovely and moving as this one.