Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mrs. Lieutenant

Numerous stories are available about the Vietnam War, especially with the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hear heroic stories about the fallen and the survivors. But there were other American faces who were deeply entrenched in the affairs overseas, whose stories are rarely told. Phyllis Zimbler Miller tells us about the devoted wives of those soldiers in her novel Mrs. Lieutenant.

Told from the points-of-view of four women, Miller touches on the courage, fear, heartbreak, and inequality of men and women during the Vietnam conflict. Sharon Gold is a Jewish woman from the North, who is opposed to the War, yet fell in love with and married an ROTC officer. Kim Benton is a Southern Baptist from North Carolina who lost most of her family at a young age, and relies on her insanely jealous husband Jim for love and support. Donna Lautenberg is a Puerto Rican army brat who married a white man. Wendy Johnson is a black woman who grew up in the South, where her doctor dad and devoted mother tried to shield her from the racism so pronounced down there.

Under normal circumstances, the odds are low that these four women coming together as friends during this time period. But they have a couple of fundamental things in common. Each is a misfit of sorts within the society at Fort Knox. And they are bound by intense love for their husbands, and fears of them being sent to Vietnam.

The four women learn how to take on their new roles as Army wives by following rules set forth within a book called, "Mrs. Lieutenant." They share a few of their hopes and dreams, but each one is hiding a secret. Truth comes to light as they get to know one another and learn how to relinquish their former prejudices and ideas.

The almost 500 pages pass by quickly as you delve into the lives of these four women and their husbands. It takes a while to keep each woman straight, especially when so many other characters make brief appearances throughout the story. But each character comes to life in Miller's storytelling, almost as if these were women she really knew once upon a time. Phyllis Zimbler Miller was also once a "Mrs. Lieutenant," and presumably drew upon those experiences to tell her story. The book is dedicated to the wives of AOB 21 during the same timeframe as the book. Sharon Gold, the first character to whom we are introduced, even talks about keeping a diary of her experiences at Fort Knox to later write about them.

You become concerned for each woman and feel her pain as she must come to terms with different decisions made by her husband. You reflect on your own opinions of war, whether it is Vietnam, WWII, or today, as especially the men demonstrate different ideas of the time. You also reflect upon the friends in your own life and all of your preconceived notions and stereotypes.

Mrs. Lieutenant is going to appeal to women more than men. But it allows women a different way to try to relate to the Vietnam War, and introduces it to them in a way that is perhaps more palatable than other war novels. It's also soft enough to teach teenagers and young adults about the era. While I enjoy reading war novels, I did appreciate how this one told the story from a completely different point-of-view.

Purchase Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel