March 2011: Review of “Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel” by Phyllis Zimbler Miller. Publisher: BookSurge, 2008. Available in paperback and Kindle editions. ISBN-10: 1419686291, ISBN-13: 978-1419686290
By George Polley (www.geogepolleyauthor.com)
Review title: “Mrs. Lieutenant” — Memories of Viet Nam and 1970
Phyllis Zimbler Miller’s “Mrs. Lieutenant” is one of those stellar reads that keep you engaged from the first word to the last and how long or how short the book is doesn’t concern you at all. Keep a box of tissues handy, because you’ll need it; I certainly did, and more than once.
If you are a military wife, have been one, or know one or more, then this will tell a story that you are intimately familiar with. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter; it’s the people and their stories that bring you in, keep you there, then linger in your memory for a long time after.
Four newly-married women from different backgrounds meet at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where their husbands are enrolled in nine weeks of Army Officers Basic.
Sharon and Robert, Kim and Tim, Wendy and Nelson and Donna and Jerry, each from very different backgrounds, each fearing that they could lose their husband before the year is out, each expected to conform to the strict formal rules of the Mrs. Lieutenant booklet each is given.
As it says in the booklet, “when a man acquires a commission, the government has gained not one, but two – the officer and his wife.”
The day that Sharon and Robert God leave Chicago to drive south through Indiana to Fort Knox, members of Ohio’s National Guard fired sixty-seven rounds in thirteen seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis. And a few days earlier, on April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that he was sending troops into Cambodia.
And in only nine short weeks, each woman’s husband could be send to Vietnam, where 2nd lieutenants had the highest death rate of any combat soldier.
Remember, these are newly married women on their way to a world that, except for Donna who grew up an “Army brat”, is like living in another world. Not only that, the racial and ethnic prejudices of the day were obvious, very uncomfortable and lead to one tragedy.
Though 1970 is forty-one years ago, with two wars going on I imagine the worries today’s military wives have are not all that different from the ones these four young women had back then.
Sharon and Rob, Kim and Jim, Wendy and Nelson, Donna and Jerry. Because of the year and their differences, each one stands out. Sharon and Rob are Jewish, Wendy and Nelson blacks from the South, Kim and Jim Southern Baptists, Donna Puerto Rican and Jerry an Anglo.
Back in 1970 when, even in central Illinois where I lived, some of the towns (like the one I lived in from 1964-1966) were “sundown towns”; blacks could go fishin’ there, but they daren’t be in or near the town after sundown. The very thought still makes me cringe, but that was the reality then.
“Mrs. Lieutenant” is more than a novel about the challenges of being an Army officer’s wife in a time of war; it’s about friendships that develop when people see each other as people and their differences as minor. And therein lies its appeal.
Go to Amazon.com, pick up a copy, and settle in for a special read.
“Mrs. Lieutenant” is a book that, in my book, has a very wide appeal. I hope the subtitle “A Sharon Gold Novel” means that we can expect more from this remarkable writer.
An easy *****“I usually read action/adventure books that are typically called a man’s genre. So when I picked up Mrs. Lieutenant, it was a change of pace for me. I am a history buff, and I do enjoy reading books (fiction or non-fiction) set during historical times. Mrs. Lieutenant looks at the 1970’s, specifically events surrounding the Vietnam War, from a perspective that I have never considered before: Through the eyes of military officers’ wives.
“The author not only allows the reader to experience this historical event, but by the masterful telling of the story through the eyes of these women, she touches on societal realities that might make some people uncomfortable in reading (i.e., religion, racial issues, etc…) But in doing this, she creates a depth of character that really allows the reader to identify with, celebrate with, and cry with these women.
“You can’t read long into this book without pausing and contemplating what is going on in the lives of these characters. Often it’s wondering what it would be like to live in a culture where some of the things you are reading about really happens; at other times, you find yourself realizing that in many ways we have not changed a whole lot. But you do this, not out of an obligation to undergo literary interpretation per se, but because the book really does pull you into the story.
“When you are done reading the book, you realize that not only did you read a good story, but you read one that stays with you on so many levels. And when you learn that the author herself lived as an officer’s wife during this time period, it makes the unfolding story of these four women all the more intriguing.”
— Tony Eldridge, author of the novel THE SAMSON EFFECT
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