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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sharply-Drawn Characters Make The Soldier's Wife Compelling (Updated)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After six months of deployment in Afghanistan, Alexa Riley's husband is finally home.  Kind of.  Although Dan's obviously overjoyed to see his family again, he's ... different.  Distant.  Alexa knows she has to give him some space, let him ease back into normal life, but every day Dan spends cavorting with his Army buddies instead of with Alexa and the kids takes her closer to the brink.  She's not sure she can take it for another day—not her marriage and certainly not the rigid, Army-controlled life she's being forced to live.  

As 34-year-old Alexa struggles to find her way in a marriage that has suddenly become very lonely, she also has to deal (alone) with the day-to-day demands of her 3-year-old twins and her 12-year-old daughter, who's acting up at boarding school.  It's like her husband's still a world away.  To complicate matters, she's got a whole slew of family members watching her every move.  They're all rooting for the marriage to work, but Alexa's just not sure she can fix it.  It's up to her to decide what's more important—her husband's military career or the needs of herself and her children. 

You don't have to be a military wife to empathize with Alexa Riley.  Any woman, especially those who are also wives and mothers, will get the heroine of The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope.  They may not like her (especially since she's kind of a selfish whiner), but they'll understand her conflicted feelings.  The story does get a little depressing—overall, though, I think it's a realistic, affecting and, overall, hopeful depiction of life in a military family.  One thing the novel brings out really well is that only those who have been through it really understand what it's like to live through a deployment.  It's easy for outsiders to look at a military "widow," and say, "Why is she complaining about her husband leaving all the time?  Didn't she know what she was getting into when he enlisted?"  The answer to that question, according to Trollope, is no.  Even if you have some idea, you don't have the whole picture until you've lived through it yourself.  This theme, along with Trollope's vivid characterization (Dan's dad and grandpa are especially endearing), made The Soldier's Wife a compelling and thought-provoking read.  

(Readalikes:  The Ocean Between Us by Susan Wiggs)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Soldier's Wife from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster via Tribute Books.  Thank you!
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