Cover image for The last pilot : a novel
Title:
The last pilot : a novel
Author:
Johncock, Benjamin, 1978- , author.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador, 2015.
Physical Description:
301 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
A U.S. Air Force test pilot passes up the chance to become an astronaut after his wife gets pregnant against all odds, and as fatherhood consumes him, a sudden tragedy puts his instincts as a father and as a pilot to the test.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781250066640
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

"Harrison sat very still. On the screen was the surface of the moon."

Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days cheating death in the skies above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho's bar, often with his wife, Grace. She and Harrison are secretly desperate for a child-and when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant, the two are overcome with joy.

While America becomes swept up in the fervor of the Space Race, Harrison turns his attention home, passing up the chance to become an astronaut to welcome his daughter, Florence, into the world. Together, he and Grace confront the thrills and challenges of raising a child head-on. Fatherhood is different than flying planes-less controlled, more anxious-however the pleasures of watching Florence grow are incomparable. But when his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison's instincts as a father and a pilot are put to test. As a pilot, he feels compelled to lead them through it-and as a father, he fears that he has fallen short.

The aftermath will haunt the Harrisons and strain their marriage as Jim struggles under the weight of his decisions. Beginning when the dust of the Second World War has only just begun to settle and rushing onward into the Sixties, Benjamin Johncock traces the path of this young couple as they are uprooted by events much larger than themselves. The turns the Harrisons take together are at once astonishing and recognizable; their journey, both frightening and full of hope. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing debut novel of loss and finding courage in the face of it from an extraordinary new talent.


Author Notes

BENJAMIN JOHNCOCK was born in England in 1978. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket . He is the recipient of an Arts Council England grant and the American Literary Merit Award, and is a winner of Comma Press's National Short Story Day competition. He also writes for the Guardian . He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife, his daughter, and his son. The Last Pilot is his first novel.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In his debut novel, accomplished short story writer and Guardian reporter Johncock takes a look back at the early days of the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in a plot revolving around the exploits of fictional test pilot and astronaut Jim Harrison. Johncock follows Harrison's journey from the Mojave desert, where he flew experimental rocket planes like the X1 in the skies over the Mojave Desert, while, on the ground, rubbing elbows with aeronautic legends such as Chuck Yeager, to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where Harrison joins a team of American astronauts charged with the mission of gaining the lead in space over the Soviets. Harrison's success, however, is cruelly shadowed by the death of his little girl, Florence, age two, a child he and his wife, Grace, were never even expected to have. While realistically describing the struggles Harrison faces in finding the courage to transcend a personal tragedy in the service of his country, Johncock also draws on true-life historical details to tell, in beautifully measured prose, a riveting good yarn about the U.S. astronaut-training program.--Hays, Carl Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Using the early days of the U.S. space exploration program as a backdrop, Johncock's impressive debut laces fact with fiction to tell the tale of Jim Harrison, an Air Force test pilot, and his wife, Grace. The story opens in the Mojave Desert in 1947, where Jim pushes innovative aircraft to their extremes and rubs elbows with the likes of Chuck Yeager and Jack Ridley. Jim and Grace pine for a child and eventually welcome a daughter, Florence. But Florence becomes gravely ill at the age of two, and despite his vast knowledge of cutting-edge aerospace technology, Jim can do little to save her life. Devastated, he throws himself into his work instead of mourning her death, volunteering for the upstart NASA program and moving with Grace to Houston. Once there, Jim must race against a ticking clock-the president expects a mission to the moon by 1970-and he slowly drifts away from Grace, develops anxious ticks, and suffers through disturbing visions of Florence, all as he prepares to participate in one of the Gemini space shuttles. Jim's story is fascinating, and the author writes with a strong ear for dialogue, which rattles the pages with intensity. A marvelous, emotionally powerful novel. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Involved in the evolution of high-speed flight in the Mojave Desert in California in the late 1940s and 1950s, test pilot Jim Harrison has little time for family life. But that changes when his wife, Grace, gives birth to a baby girl. After the child's sudden death from a rare form of cancer, Jim readily accepts an offer to become an astronaut, and the family relocates to Houston, a move for which Grace is not prepared. While Jim commits himself totally to the task of space flight, he tries to ignore not only his own deeply rooted grief but also Grace's unhappiness in Houston and unwillingness to let her daughter go. Eventually Jim must face that he can't continue to tough it out in military fashion. VERDICT A child's death is enough to unravel anyone, and it's not always clear whether Johncock is exploring a family's grief or linking it to the larger theme of the American space program. Yet this first novel is engaging and believable, and it's compelling to revisit the events of the space program. [See Prepub Alert, 3/9/15.]-James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.