The Longest Night by Andria Williams
Two years, or maybe even a year ago, I would not have described myself as a fan of historical fiction; this seems odd, considering I spent the majority of my university career studying history and that I chose to earn two degrees related to history. Maybe I experienced some burn out after all of that work, or maybe I just hadn't been reading the right historical fiction for me; nevertheless, I find that there are certain time periods and topics that suck me right in.
In addition, I've also found that I love exploring debut authors; like some of the characters in her debut novel, Andria Williams is an army wife and I believe that she has produced a sparkling, dramatic freshman effort. The Longest Night has many elements that I love: set in the mid to late '50s in the midwest; characters with depth who harbor secrets; tense family relationships (aren't they all?); based on an interesting, not-often-discussed historical event; and unexpected twists.
Paul Collier is a true army man, loyal to his core, yet he begins to question some of the details of his assignment; his questioning, left without voice, bleeds over into every other area of his life until he is consumed by it.
At one point he had the panicky insight that perhaps no woman on this earth truly loved a man; how could anyone expect them to? Then his thoughts manned up, came in and grabbed these neuroses and chucked them aside, saying, 'Get ahold of yourself; you support your family, you put a roof over their heads, your wife seems happy with you 99 percent of the time. Don't lose your mind here. Everything is fine.'"
Nat, his wife, struggles to fulfill her role as dutiful army wife; especially when her husband is deployed, suddenly, and she is left to care for her two young daughters on her own.
It was improper to be lonely; it was improper to be bored; it was improper, most of all, to be filled with anything like longing. And even if you were good and stayed in your house and loved your children and your husband - and, yes, she did love her husband - people could sniff out this longing in you [...].
There's Paul's boss, Master Sergeant Richards, who secretly despises the assignment he's stuck with until his 20 years are up; he flirts with the army wives when he's not drinking at his desk during the day shift. Meanwhile, his wife Jeannie tries to maintain a perfect façade for the community; she finds pleasure in the misfortune of others, since it helps her find solace in her own misery.
Jeannie was excellent at parties. She believed that when she stood before Saint Peter's gate, he'd make a list of her transgressions - moodiness, a penchant for alcohol - but compare these to the way she had planned and conducted herself at social gatherings, and give her a pass.
This novel was a delicious surprise; even if you're not a fan of historical fiction, I would still highly recommend this one to those of you who enjoy the other elements I've listed above. I will warn you that when you get about 75-80% of the way through, you'd better clear your schedule; you won't be able to put it down and there are some devastating twists and turns.