Review by Tess Tabak
Everyone has heard about the famous Wright brothers, who gave humanity the gift of flight. But who was behind the brothers, helping them face the public and knitting them zigzag socks?
Patty Dann’s The Wright Sister explores the oft-forgotten Katharine Wright, Wilbur and Orville’s sister. This is based on a true story: Orville Wright was apparently a very particular man, and although he and his sister were very close, he immediately stopped speaking to her after she was married. The book combines Katharine’s “marriage diary” with a series of letter she writes to Orville after he stopped speaking to her. (Wilbur had already passed away by this point.)
Aside from Orv and Katharine’s very real rift, much of the rest of the book comes from Dann’s imagination. She did some light research, but didn’t let details stop her rich fictitious version of Katharine’s life. Katharine Wright is an interesting character, a strong feminist with as strong a technical knowledge of airplanes as her brothers had. In Dann’s hands, she is very outspoken and honest in the pages of her own diary, admitting her lust for her husband and newly discovered pleasure (she married for the first time in her fifties). There are some tongue in cheek nods to the true author’s actual knowledge of historical events (in 1928 she writes Orville that she hopes he’s not investing money in the stock market, for example) but for the most part it feels fairly true to the time period in which it was set.
It’s a fairly quiet book; much time is spent on everyday details of life like Katharine Wright’s fondness for her mother’s old mixing bowl or the summer heat that forces Katharine to hole up in a bathtub during the afternoon. Due to the constraints of the time, unfortunately, Katharine didn’t live an extremely adventurous life. Her life was probably richer than most women of the time – she marched for women’s rights, sailed with the Wright brothers to Europe, and attracted some amount of media attention from her association with her famous brothers – but she still spent most of her life entrapped in the domestic arts of cooking, cleaning and fixing or making clothing. In the cooking department, the book offers a sumptuous banquet of descriptions of foods, especially desserts – pies, cakes and cookies that Katharine made for houseguests, or for her brother Orville. Dann also gives Katharine some mild adventures of her own – a road trip, flying lessons, a friend’s adult daughter who’s living a wayward life as an alcoholic and unwed mother.
The Wright Sister is a very pleasant read, and a great way to transport yourself to times past and think upon how far we’ve truly come, even amidst the pandemic.
The Wright Sister was published August 2020 by Harper Collins
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Glad you enjoyed spending time with Katharine Wright!
It remains a mystery why Orville refused to speak to his sister after she married at 52.
Since the book was published I’ve heard from a number of people who are estranged from their adult siblings as well – and it often remains unclear why. –
Patty Dann – author of the Wright Sister