What the critics are saying:
Starred Kirkus review. “Scintillating….A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way.”
Starred review in Booklist. Kristine Huntley writes: “a luminous debut…utterly absorbing and richly rewarding.”
The Longest Night listed by Library Journal’s Barbara Hoffert as one of “Five Key Literary/Historical Debut Novels”
From the moment I received an advanced reader copy from the author’s editor, Andrea Walker, I knew I held a treasured story in my hands. The ARC opens with a letter from Ms. Walker that addresses each reviewer in a respectful and endearing manner. She gives us a brief summary of the novel and ends her letter with these words: “In this atmospheric and immersive debut, big historical events play out in the intimate context of a marriage…”
The story unfolds with Army Specialist Paul Collier racing down a lonely road outside of Idaho Falls on the frigid night of January 3, 1961. All we know at this point is that something bad has happened at the CR-1, a nuclear reactor where Paul works as an operator. As he heads toward the reactor, his thoughts are on his men working the night shift and his beautiful young wife, Nat. She’s back in town fifty miles away at their cute little pitched roof rent house where their three young children are tucked in their beds. Would Paul ever see them again? And would he get a chance to apologize to Nat for the way he’d stormed out?
Then the story moves back in time to June 1959, when we first meet Nat Collier and her two preschool aged daughters, Samantha and Liddie. Nat, short for Natalie, plays the dutiful Army wife as she follows her husband on a cross-country move to his new duty station in Idaho. The story really gripped me at the opening lines of chapter one when Nat first steps out of their 1955 Desoto Fireflite: “Nat was the first one out of the car. She stepped into the dirt parking lot, her low-heeled shoes printing chevrons into the reddish dirt.”
After reading these lines, I kept going back to stare at the cream-colored pumps on the book’s cover. The shoes took me back to a time when women wore dresses and heels to clean house, run errands, and throw dinner parties to impress their friends and neighbors. For me, a former military wife, these pumps on the cover and the imprint Nat’s soles leave in the dirt, represent a formality that came with marrying into the military during this era.
But much of the story will resonate with today’s military spouses. In a passage where Nat is chatting with another young Army wife, the author says it all about the vagabond lifestyle and how quickly friendships are formed. “Nat was learning the hard way that if you wanted friends in the military, there was no time to waste. Years worth of closeness and trust and shared jokes were accelerated into weeks.”
Then there’s the temptation that comes from long separations during deployments and temporary duty assignments where the spouses are left to fend for themselves on the home front. Nat’s temptation turns out to be a local cowboy named Esrom, and wouldn’t you know, he turns out to be one of my favorite characters in the story.
For those characters you love to hate, especially the ones who abuse power, Andria Williams does a superb job with Paul’s boss, Master Sergeant Richards (who drives a 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville), and his perfectly coiffed wife, Jeannie.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who values good writing and a story that both entertains and educates. I’m especially impressed with how the author writes about a nuclear reactor on a level that I can understand, as I am not a science person. After reading whole passages aloud to my husband, he got so intrigued that he started researching the history behind the real accident that took place on January 3, 1961.
The Longest Night is one of those novels that will live on in your head as if you were actually one of the characters in the story and now these are shared memories.
Andria Williams is a Navy wife, the mother of three children, and the founder of Military Spouse Book Review, a site which promotes the writing of women veterans and military spouses and publishes book reviews and essays. She holds a BA in English from UC-Berkeley and a MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota.
The Longest Night is her first novel.