The Last Pilot (Hardcover)

By Benjamin Johncock

Picador USA, 9781250066640, 320pp.

Publication Date: July 7, 2015

July 2015 Indie Next List

“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 glory years of the 1950s. 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, Sewickley, PA
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Description

"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.



About the Author

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.


Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. Benjamin Johncock provides readers with wonderful, atmospheric descriptions of the desert landscape. Why do you think he dedicates so much space to describing the land?generic viagra price canada
  2. Pancho is one of the novel’s most colorful characters and is based on real-life figure, Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes. In what ways is Pancho a woman ahead of her time?generic viagra price canada
  3. Why does Grace keep her visits with Reverend Irving a secret from Jim?generic viagra price canada
  4. The Last Pilot is framed by historical events: the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Space Race. How does this historical context affect your reading of the novel? Are you drawn to novels that are based on true stories?generic viagra price canada
  5. After Florence is born, Jim begins to learn what it means to be a parent. Johncock writes, “Florence cried hard when hungry and it cut into him, not the volume, or the sound, but the need.” What was it about this situation that Jim didn’t like?generic viagra price canada
  6. After Jim is told the terrible news about Florence’s brain tumor he still insists on going through with his scheduled flight test even though Riley urges him to “call it a day.” Why do you think Jim insists on going through with the flight test? What insights into Jim’s character does this scene provide?generic viagra price canada
  7. Do you think Jim would have made the decision to join NASA’s lunar landing mission if Florence had lived?generic viagra price canada
  8. During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Grace asks Jim to stay with her instead of continuing to devote all of his time to the space program. When he refuses, she asks him if he thinks the program is more important than her, to which he replies, yes. Do you agree with Jim? Why or why not?generic viagra price canada
  9. As Jim’s mental state begins to unravel, he starts to believe that he killed Florence. Do you place any blame on Jim for Florence’s death?generic viagra price canada
  10. The novel ends on Christmas Eve, 1968. Jim and Grace are watching a broadcast from the Apollo 8 mission whose crew is the first to see the entire Earth from space. Why do you think Johncock ends with this powerful image?generic viagra price canada
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