“Wings” by Karl Friedrich

Title: Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls
Author: Karl Friedrich
ISBN: 9781590135709
Pages: 304
Release date: April 2011
Publisher: McBooks
Genre: Historical fiction; romance
Format: ARC (Hardcover)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Sally Ketchum has had a hard life. Her father, a dirt-farming alcoholic and religious fanatic, made her childhood living hell. At eighteen, she meets a young, charming man named Tex Jones who frees her from the prison of East Texas, but their incredible bond is broken when he dies in a tragic airplane accident.

Sally is determined not to stay in the hardscrabble life to which she must return after Tex’s death, and her chance finally comes by way of an invitation to be one of the few female pilots the Army is training to transport planes during World War II—the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). But when Sally reports for training, she discovers that Congress has sent Mr. Waterman, an evil man who appears to be some kind of lobbyist, to shut down the revolutionary program.

As Sally pursues the one dream she’s ever had—to fly—she must come to grips with the death of her lover, deal with attention from new young men, and allow the scars of her troubled childhood to heal—all while fighting for the WASP to remain in place.

I’m fascinated by the idea of intrepid young women simultaneously taking on war aviation and the Army in one fell swoop. What guts! And I really liked the parts about flying; Friedrich seems to know his stuff and to have researched the era well.

I only wish that the book had focused more upon flying rather than Sally’s love life; it is when the story veers into her personal life—as it often does—that the dialogue stiffens and descriptions become a little too overwrought, with statements like “Sally almost didn’t recognize Geri’s voice. It literally dripped adoration.” What a visual image! But probably not the image the author intends.

Friedrich sets up flat, one-dimensional characters. Mr. Waterman is pure evil, while Tex Jones would make Jesus Christ envious. The good guys and the bad guys are in two different camps, with the notable exception of Dixie, Sally’s big-mouthed best friend. But even she ultimately consigns herself to the domestic life, going so far as to lecture Sally for not getting Bayard to marry her.

When Sally and Beau Bayard, her new love interest, are forced to land in a farmer’s field during a terrible storm, they encounter two walking stereotypes: a crotchety old farmer with a faithful dog, and his merry, welcoming wife. The pair are depicted as painfully naïve and out-of-touch; when the storm takes down the phone lines, the farmer’s wife is thrown into quite a tizzy:

Mrs. Black turned from the sink and gave her apron a terrible twist of worry over the storm and the wires and the life that took place beyond the boundaries of her fences, and so beyond her ability to understand and to control. The anguished look of helplessness that came over her could as easily have wracked the face of a savage following a sign of displeasure from the gods.

Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but it seems a bit much.

After their unexpected landing, Sally and Bayard are taken to an army base, where the commanding officer blows a gasket about Sally’s gender. The pair is then shipped to a whorehouse to sleep. Subtle. Sally notices Bayard’s hungry glances at the women, and later when Bayard asks her to marry him–8 hours after their first kiss–she brings it up.

He glared. “I just looked, for Christ’s sake. They were nearly naked. In fact, some of them were naked! That’s what women do. You use your bodies to get us interested. We don’t have any control over it!”

This is the climax of the story. Here, Sally is being tested; will she stand up for herself in a society hostile to her hopes and dreams by standing up to this representation of patriarchy and male chauvinism?

In a word, no. Sally ignores Beau’s comment, and he convinces her to continue their relationship. After that, my only interest in the story was whether she confronts him about it, and she never does. From there, the story peters out.

The climax occurred too soon, and no one seems to notice.

But perhaps that is because the main conflict of the story is not fully fleshed out. Is it between her and Bayard? Her and the army? Her and Mr. Waterman? Her and the other girls? Her and herself? Sally seems at odds with the world; she grows angry and fearful of anything or anyone standing in her way. Too much conflict spread around weakens its power, in addition to making her seem easily provoked and hot-headed.

The story centers around Sally forging a new life for herself, but has Sally changed significantly at the end? Is she any better or worse than when she began? That is the true test of a good story. Sure, she becomes more confident, but wouldn’t the story have been stronger if she’d asserted herself to Beau–if this were the turning point of her life, where the shuts down the “perfect man” in order to keep pursuing her freedom to dream? Because even then, no matter what happens to the WASP, Sally will know that she has the strength to take on anyone.

As it stands, the book is interesting, but it loses momentum and power by being bogged down with clunky dialogue, self-conscious showing-not-telling, and an unclear arc.

Quote of Note:

“You’re stuck so deep in the part of bein’ a victim that it’d take a case of dynamite and the Second Comin’ to drag you out.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out what other reviewers on the tour have been saying:

October 3: A Bookish Libraria
October 4: Life in Review
October 5: Acting Balanced
October 10: The Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object
October 11: Diary of an Eccentric
October 12: “That’s Swell!”
October 13: Man of La Book (with author Q&A)
October 18: Reviews from the Heart
October 19: A Bookish Affair
October 20: Bags, Books & Bon Jovi
October 21: Flight to Success
October 25: Unabridged Chick
October 26: Staircase Wit
October 27: 2 Kids and Tired
November 1: Joyfully Retired
November 2: The House of the Seven Tails
November 3: Life on the Road as a Pilot
Date TBD: A Cozy Reader’s Corner

4 replies »

  1. I don’t think I’ve read anything about the WASPS even though I really enjoy WWII books. I’m sorry this one didn’t live up to your expectations though.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


  2. I felt the characters were flat, too, and the fact that only Sally seemed to have so many in-air close calls was a bit over the top. Still, I enjoyed the book for the most part for the information about the WASPs. I’ll link to your review on War Through the Generations.


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