Every time I see images on the news of military personnel reuniting with their loved ones, I weep. I also wonder if those loved ones are, perhaps, insane. After all, what kind of wife* chooses to spend her life watching her husband disappear, not just to work every day, but sometimes on deployments that can last months or years? No normal woman would pack up her household every couple of years, uprooting herself and her children, leaving behind family, friends, and even Wal-Mart (*gasp*) just because her husband's bosses command her to do so. As patriotic as I consider myself to be, I wouldn't wish this topsy-turvy military lifestyle on my worst enemy.
A civvie like me can never truly understand what drives a military family. I get this. It is, in fact, what drew me to Susan Wiggs' new book, The Ocean Between Us (actually, this is a re-release; it was first published in 2004, I believe). The novel explores the unique experiences of a Navy wife, from the fear and loneliness of deployment, to the struggles of globetrotting with a family in tow, to the surges of pride that accompany every rank advancement and celebration of bravery. They may be certifiable, but Wiggs proves that military wives have stories to tell that are just as exciting as those of the soldiers/sailors they spend their lives supporting.
Our heroine is Grace, mother of three and wife of Navy officer Steve Bennett. As Grace approaches her 40th birthday, she's feeling restless. For years, she's dutifully followed her husband on assignments around the globe, even when it meant leaving friends behind, even when it meant upsetting her children, even when it meant putting her own dreams on hold to make her husband's come true. She's done it willingly, proudly, enjoying the challenge of constant change. So, why is her traitorous heart suddenly screaming at her to settle down? It could be the charming Victorian fixer-upper she's aching to buy. Or the lure of starting her own career. Or the close friends she's made at the Totally New Totally You fitness center. Or the fact that her children are fleeing the nest, giving her more time and energy to focus on her own goals. Whatever the reasons, Grace knows she never wants to leave Whidbey Island. She also knows the Navy will never let her stay.
Steve, who's about to ship out on another deployment, can't understand why Grace is so discontented. She's always been the perfect military wife - organized, efficient, reliable and unfailingly supportive. Now she's talking about buying a house, starting a business, veering far away from the future they've so carefully plotted for themselves. He's seen all the sacrifices she's made for his career, but he still can't quite understand her resentment. Is it just her upcoming birthday that's got her so upset? Or is there some other cause for the tension that's suddenly boiling under the surface of their marriage? Would Grace really leave him to pursue her own life? When a secret from Steve's past surfaces it gives her even more reason to walk away from him. Grace has always been waiting for him at home - will she still be there when he returns from this deployment?
Although the book mostly focuses on Steve and Grace, subplots abound. There's Brian Bennett, who's hesitating to tell his father about his real plans for college. There's his twin, Emma, who's hiding a terrible secret. We also dip into the lives of Lauren, who's struggling to find a way to tell the perfect family man that she's infertile; Patricia, who's anxiously awaiting the birth of her first child and the return of her Navy husband; Josh, who's wrestling over the reasons his girlfriend refuses to commit; and Ross Cameron, who finds Grace Bennett to be the most alluring thing about beautiful Whidbey Island.
There's a lot going on in The Ocean Between Us, probably too much. I would have enjoyed the read much more if Wiggs' editor had chopped the story down by about 150 pages and urged her to focus more closely on The Bennett Family. It's not that I was particularly drawn to Steve and Grace - they both came off as snipy and selfish - but the kids' stories really captured my interest. I guess I found myself more intrigued by what life in the Navy does to a family than to a marriage, if that makes sense.
Even though the book gets long, drags quite a bit in places, and didn't wow me with stellar writing, it's not a bad read. More like an average read. Not wonderful, but not horrible. Just okay. I liked peeking into Navy life, but the rest of the story needs some military-grade spit and polish to really make it shine.
(Readalikes: I can't really think of any. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, sexual content and underrage drinking/partying
To the FTC, with love: I received this book from Big Honcho Media as part of a blog tour.
For more thoughts on The Ocean Between Us, visit the other stops on the tour:
April 21 - Seeryus Mama
April 25 - 5 Minutes for Books
April 27 - The Pink Chandelier
April 29 - New Girl on Post
May 3 - Harlequin Blog
May 5 - Booking Mama
* I realize that the appropriate term to use here would be "spouse," not "wife," as many men take care of home and family while their enlisted wives are away. I chose to use the pronoun "she" in this paragraph simply because it's easier to write than "what kind of wife/husband chooses to spend her/his life watching her/his husband/wife disappearing ..." In no way do I want to diminish the importance of having supportive husbands on the homefront.