The Last Pilot: A Novel
Author: Benjamin Johncock
Genre: Historical Fiction/General Fiction
Release Date: July 7, 2015
"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.
“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.” — **PUBLISHERS WEEKLY STARRED BOXED REVIEW **
"This is by far the best debut novel I've read in years. You can read about the plot elsewhere, but for me, the beauty of this novel is in the balance of the dialogue; the sustained emotion that runs through the whole; the haiku-like simplicity of the prose (and trust me, it takes a long, long time to create that sense of effortlessness). Like so many of America's stories, this is a Western in disguise; a quiet, limpid Western, where the action mostly takes place in the air and in the chambers of the heart. To me, it reads like the reclusive disciple of Cormac McCarthy and de Saint-Exupéry, and if it doesn't get at least on the shortlist of a major literary prize, then the book world is even more clueless than I've always suspected…"—Joanne Harris
"I read The Last Pilot in a single sitting, drawn into this story of a couple's journey through love and grief as it unfolds during the tense early days of the Space Race. Told in language as beautifully spare—and unsparing—as a desert or a moonscape, The Last Pilot reminds us in powerful ways that the real unknown frontier still lies within the mysteries of the human heart."—Kim Edwards, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lake of Dreams and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
"Prepare yourself for a one sitting read. This tautly crafted domestic drama is set against the backdrop of the early days of NASA. When Jim and Grace face the devastation of losing their only child, their world implodes. Grace retreats, and Jim seeks salvation in the dangerous world of space travel. Readers won't be able to leave these characters until they turn the final page. Benjamin Johncock's novel is a gorgeous exploration of loss, forgiveness, and courage. THE LAST PILOT is a remarkable debut." —Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN
“Filled with dialogue that cuts like a knife, THE LAST PILOT is a riveting time capsule of a novel that tells the gripping story of Jim Harrison, an Air Force test pilot, working at NASA during the 1950s glory years. But the dangers and magnitude of space exploration pale in comparison to Harrison’s life-on-earth challenges, including the death of his young daughter, which haunt and threaten to destroy him. An emotionally raw, riveting read.”
—Susan Hans O'Connor, Penguin Bookshop, Sweickley, PA
—Susan Hans O'Connor, Penguin Bookshop, Sweickley, PA
"I fell into this book like a falling star. Jim Harrison, already a test pilot, wants to go into the wild beyond above the earth. At least until he found that he was going to be a father, something he and his wife thought would ever happen . . . Debut author Johncock swirls into the narrative real history that makes the tale that much more engrossing, and gives a very impressive debut novel. I'll be keeping my eye on this guy, and so should you."
—Jackie Blem, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
“A tremendous debut! The subject matter is compelling and the story is heartbreaking at times, but what set it apart for me was the style in which Benjamin Johncock tells this story. Brilliant!”—Julie Slavinsky, Warwick's, La Jolla, CA
Giveaway: (2) Hardcover copies of The Last Pilot - Open to US only!