Vick Mickunas: Novel imagines life after Katharine Wright married, and the rift with brother Orville

Katharine Wright is with Lt. Frank P. Lahm of the United States Army Signal Corps during the 1909 Wright Brothers Homecoming Celebration medals ceremony held on the morning of Friday, June 18, 1909 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. In the grandstands, school children are clothed in red, white, and blue, to form a United States of America flag in the grandstands. ARCHIVE PHOTO
Katharine Wright is with Lt. Frank P. Lahm of the United States Army Signal Corps during the 1909 Wright Brothers Homecoming Celebration medals ceremony held on the morning of Friday, June 18, 1909 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. In the grandstands, school children are clothed in red, white, and blue, to form a United States of America flag in the grandstands. ARCHIVE PHOTO

The Wright Sister” by Patty Dann (Harper Perennial, 224 pages, $16.99)

Over the 16 years that I have been writing about books for this newspaper I have covered a number of titles related to our most famous native sons, those inventors of powered flight, Wilbur and Orville Wright. Some of you might recall that in 2016 I reviewed a book called "Maiden Flight" by Harry Haskell. That book was inspired by an archive of letters that had been written by Katharine Wright. She had been living with her brother Orville when she delivered a bombshell of an announcement; that she was going to get married.

Explore7 unique moments in Dayton’s history of flight

The man she married was a widower from Kansas City named Harry Haskell. In “Maiden Flight,” Katharine’s husband’s grandson, also named Harry Haskell, wrote a novel based on the actual letters that had been passed down through their family. That book was based on the true and tragic story of how Katharine’s declaration that she was leaving Orville late in her life to follow her heart’s desire caused a sad estrangement between two siblings who had always been incredibly close. Orville never got over it.

The Wright Sister" by Patty Dann (Harper Perennial, 224 pages, $16.99)
The Wright Sister" by Patty Dann (Harper Perennial, 224 pages, $16.99)

The novelist Patty Dann just published "The Wright Sister," a story that imagines Katharine's existence after she got married and how her heartbreaking rift with Orville impacted her life. This book is written in the form of diary entries and letters. Katharine describes this journal as her marriage diary.

Katharine met her future husband many years before at Oberlin College.

Explore5 places to visit to celebrate the history of flight and the Wright brothers

During the summers, Orville and Katharine took long vacations at their cottage on Lake Huron. Wilbur had died some years before that. When Katharine was in her 40s, it seems that Orville presumed she planned to spend the rest of her life living with him, like some old married couple.

Orville failed to notice the sparks flashing between his sister and Harry Haskell during the times Harry spent visiting the Wrights at their lake home. As “The Wright Sister” opens, Katharine describes Orville’s reaction when she announced her engagement, he flung a French porcelain pitcher at the wall.

Katharine is forced to concede that angry Orville might have some mental health issues. The author imagines how Katharine might have felt as she explored this exciting new experience of marriage and some of the obstacles she could have perceived. This fictional Katharine is troubled by photos of her husband's late wife that continue to adorn their walls. They make her feel jealous.

Orville Wright poses in front of a 1912 model C machine at Simms Station. This was one of the first 5 machines ordered by the Army.
Orville Wright poses in front of a 1912 model C machine at Simms Station. This was one of the first 5 machines ordered by the Army.

Credit: UNKNOWN

Credit: UNKNOWN

Diary entries are interspersed with letters to Orville. She keeps hoping he will display more maturity and reconcile with her. All her entreaties are met with a stony silence from Brother Orv over in Dayton.

ExplorePHOTOS: Hawthorn Hill’s secrets revealed in 12 images

We get insights into Orville’s supposed state of mind after a war took place in which the Wright brothers’ invention was used to rain death down from the skies — it bothered him their wonderful flying machine had been transformed into an instrument of destruction.

Orville never relented. He didn't visit his sister until she was upon her deathbed. In "The Wright Sister" we soar to the heights of Katharine's liberation from Orville and then swoop down over and again through the pathos of her desperation over their separation.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.