Volume 90, Issue 98

Wednesday, April 02, 1997



Earhart theories weak

I Was Amelia Earhart
By Jane Mendelsohn
Vintage Books
Paperback, $14, 146 pgs.

In the wake of media furor concerning the 60th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's disappearance during her global voyage, Jane Mendelsohn presents her theory on the Earhart legend in paperback. This fiction depicts the days proceeding the vanishing of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Mendelsohn constructs an island set where Earhart, Noonan and Earhart's Lockheed Electra rest from their global voyage, the voyage being an ego booster and publicity stunt gone awry.

Mendelsohn portrays Earhart as a self-interested, almost caustic personality whose sense of adventure and hubris were developed during fictitious childhood events. A superficial marriage to George Palmer Putnam and a hate-hate relationship with Noonan add to Earhart's indifferent albeit strong character. The fictitious Earhart longed to be a heroine, a fiercely-independent woman and press-friendly starlet of sorts. This Earhart reads like a Hollywood star's caricature from a fan club fact sheet.

The stranded-on-a-desert isle premise is a little far-fetched for modern audiences. The hyper-romantic concept of a popular figure disappearing by a press-contrived mysterious death and finding solace in obscurity has been exercised by some fan clubs to placate inquiring minds. Why should Mendelsohn bar her fiction from this popular fantasy?

The what-ever-happened-to question is also applied to navigator Noonan. The previously unfriendly relationship turns into a Hollywood-type romance. Whether the animosity between aviatrix and navigator was actual or contrived, the relationship which develops between the pair has a crowd-pleasing glint. A love relationship between adversaries might be possible but has been done in too many dramas.

Mendelsohn decorates her story with idyllic scenarios of love, hate and madness in this attempt at a lyric-novel. She incorporates third person narration with the familiar, thus shifting the novel's perspective and at times making the story hard to follow. Alas, this valiant attempt at a mixed genre reads like a Sunday evening television movie.

Amelia Earhart could have retired to a deserted island which makes a lovely story. The alternative end to her career does not lend itself well to a full-length novel.

–Victoria Barkley

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Copyright The Gazette 1997