THE LAST PILOT

Benjamin Johncock

Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the U.S. 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,

more …

Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the U.S. 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 into the world. But when

his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison’s

instincts as a father and a pilot are put to the test.

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.

less …
  • Picador
  • Hardcover
  • July 2015
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781250066640

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About Benjamin Johncock

Benjamin Johncock resides in England and writes

regularly for The Guardian. The Last Pilot is his first novel.

Praise

“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

“This is by far the best debut novel I’ve read in years . . . 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.”—Joanne Harris, New York

Times bestselling author

Discussion Questions

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?

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?

Why does Grace keep her visits with Reverend Irving a secret from Jim?

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?

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?

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?

Do you think Jim would have made the decision to join NASA’s lunar

landing mission if Florence had lived?

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?

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?

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?