Crossing the Horizon
by Laurie Notaro
Discussion Questions:
1. Crossing the Horizon opens with an account of Elsie Mackay’s narrow escape from death in an airplane piloted by her flight instructor. What does her behavior in the middle of this crisis reveal about her character? How does Elsie’s appetite for adventure relate to the choices she makes in other aspects of her life?

2. “Lord Inchcape had seen the will of his daughter evolve right before his eyes, her boldness take hold.” (page12) How does Lord Inchcape’s relationship with his third daughter, Elsie, change over the course of the novel? How do you interpret Inchcape’s elaborate efforts to protect Elsie from harm—typical fatherly concern, the controlling behavior of an aristocrat used to getting his way, or something else entirely?

3. How does the $25,000 Orteig Prize (for the first nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris) bring together Charles Lindbergh, an unknown airmail pilot from St. Louis, and Charles Levine, the Brooklyn-born millionaire and cofounder of the Columbia Aircraft Corporation? How would you characterize the nature of their connection? Were you surprised to learn that both were members of the Quiet Birdmen?

4. “ ‘I am already the Queen of Diamonds, but,” Mabel said daintily, “I’d love to be the Queen of the Air!’ ” (page 54) Who is the “real” Mabel Boll, and how does her passion for flying fit in the larger context of her public persona? Why does Charles Levine find her personality an advantage in publicizing his plans to be the first person to fly the east-west transatlantic route? What aspects of her portrayal in the novel did you find most memorable, and why?

5. In what ways does Ruth Elder seem unconventional for a young woman from the wrong side of the tracks of Anniston, Alabama? Why do speculators from West Virginia decide to help fund her seemingly improbable dream to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic? How does Ruth capitalize on her youth and physical attractiveness to advance her own aviation goals?

6. Compare and contrast the reactions Elsie Mackay, Mabel Boll, and Ruth Elder have when each experiences flight for the first time. What excites them about being up in the air? How does each woman feel about piloting a plane? How do their unique marital situations—divorced (Mackay), widowed (Boll), and married but living alone (Elder) facilitate their pursuit of their dreams of aviation?

7. In what regard does Captain Walter “Ray” Hinchliffe embody the ideal of a pilot? What does his association with both Charles Levine and Elsie Mackay suggest about his profile in the aviation community in the aftermath of the war? To what extent were Hinchliffe’s financial situation and his sense of obligation to his family responsible for his untimely death?

8. What does Charles Lindbergh’s reception in Paris in 1927 reveal about the world’s fascination with air travel and its pioneers? Compare Lindbergh’s honors and instant fame to the kind of celebrity enjoyed by present-day luminaries and innovators. Why did Lindbergh’s accomplishment seem to galvanize so many people in different parts of the world?

9. Describe the transatlantic attempt of Ruth Elder and Captain George Haldeman in the American Girl and their rescue by the sailors of the Barendrecht. To what extent were the hazards they faced shared by many of those who lost their lives attempting to fly across the Atlantic Ocean? How might the details of their flight plan have played a role in their remarkable rescue?

10. Describe the atmosphere of competition among the pioneers of early aviation. How were female pilots like Elsie Mackay and Ruth Elder treated by their male counterparts when they joined the scene? How does the historical context of Amelia Earhart’s efforts at transatlantic flight color your appreciation for the social and gender barriers that Mackay, Boll, and Elder were attempting to break? Why do you think Earhart remains better known than any of the aviatrixes whom Laurie Notaro profiles in Crossing the Horizon?

11. “Thousands and thousands of women, many of them waving scarves, were crowded on the tarmac at Le Bourget when Ruth took off her flying goggles and finally looked around her. . . .[T]hese were people who believed in her.” (page 270) Aside from their gender, what qualities do Mabel Boll, Elsie Mackay, and Ruth Elder have in common? What accounts for their tenacious pursuit of their goals? What might these women represent to the thousands of women who would never fly on airplanes in their lifetimes?

12. “‘You have everyone on the verge of nervous collapse with your ludicrous flying!’ Have you any idea what it’s doing to this family?’” (page 336) Why does Elsie Mackay deceive her family about her plans to copilot the Endeavour across the Atlantic with Captain Hinchliffe? How do the family members of the aviators in this era tolerate the uncertainty and dangers inherent in the activity of flying?

13. If you had to select one of the figures in this book as your copilot on a transatlantic flight, which would you choose and why? Discuss your answer.

14. How did you interpret the spiritual communications from Captain Hinchliffe delivered by the well-regarded medium Eileen Garrett to his widowed wife, Emilie? If the messages weren’t coming from Hinchliffe, who were they from?

15. Of the many adventures detailed in Crossing the Horizon, which did you find most memorable and why? How did the author’s decision to intersperse the individual stories of Mackay, Boll, and Elder over the course of the novel’s narrative impact your reading?

Enhance Your Book Club
1. In Crossing the Horizon, aviators like Elsie Mackay and Ruth Elder find themselves having to contradict their families’ wishes in order to pursue their dreams of flying. Ask members of your group to consider challenges they have faced in balancing their goals with their obligations to family. What dreams have they pursued or achieved, and what dreams have they had to put on hold or put aside entirely?

2. In the early twentieth century, transcontinental air travel was still such a novelty that its viability as a form of modern transportation was by no means guaranteed. At the time, female pilots were thought to be a dangerous development—in part because men were not accustomed to women having unfettered access to the latest in aeronautical equipment. Discuss the notion of a “glass ceiling,” and the extent to which women continue to have limited access in male-dominated spheres and professions today. Your group may want to compare some of the cultural assumptions of women in the early twentieth century with present-day expectations.

3. In contemporary society, celebrity and its trappings are sources of constant fascination and public interest, as evidenced by the rise of publications and websites devoted to stars and the minutiae of their everyday lives. The media, as it is portrayed in Crossing the Horizon, offer an interesting glimpse into the nature of celebrity culture in the early twentieth century. Ask members of your group to consider the historical figures profiled in the novel, and to compare them to some of today’s famous explorers, musicians, authors, actors, athletes, and lifestyle gurus. How would Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Elsie Mackay, Ruth Elder, and Mabel Boll fare under the klieg lights of modern celebrity and social media? What present-day figures, if any, do they call to mind?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)
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