Title: The Last Pilot
Author: Benjamin Johncock
Publication Date: June 2015
I’ve never read a novel taking place quite in this setting, and reading about pilots during the space race was quite exciting. I found myself quite attached to the Harrison family as they face the triumphs and pitfalls of the life of a top test pilot. They make the best of their life, brought together for their love for one another and their only child Florence. Jim loves his career, and his family even more. But tragedy strikes and this family finds itself suddenly torn apart. The struggles they face and the anxieties the have are heightened by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the on going fear of the Cold War.
What I loved about this novel was the emotion of the characters and how true to life they were. Jim and Grace have a wonderful relationship, but it isn’t always perfect. Their marriage becomes strained in times of devastation. They are not always able to cope with things falling apart in their lives and they are not immune to being pulled apart by tragedy. They love one another through everything, but this story demonstrates the reality that love is not always enough. Especially in grief, these two are not always able to provide the support and stability they each need.
My only criticism of this book is that I thought there’d be a much greater focus on the space race than there was. While it was well integrated with the familial story of the Harrisons, I felt as though the subplots addressing the development of NASA’s astronaut program suddenly switched to Grace’s point of view, that of a housewife at home while her husband is constantly away at work. While it was interesting, and Grace faces some struggles with the other space wives, I think I would have liked to see more of the training, the test flights, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is quite a lot of this already, and many of you may love the balance that this novel finds between familial drama, history, and technological development, I personally would have like to read more about the space endeavours.
I really enjoyed Johncock’s novel. It was easy to read with relatable characters and a touching and heart-breaking plot.