Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel follows four women who spend nine weeks in Fort Knox, Kentucky, as their husbands complete Armor Officers Basic (AOB) training. The book takes place in early 1970, just after the Ohio National Guard kills several Kent State University students during the volatile times of the Vietnam War.
The women are as different as night and day: Sharon, a Jewish anti-war protester from Chicago; Kim, a white Southern Baptist from North Carolina whose rough childhood causes her to cling to her jealous husband; Donna, a Puerto Rican coping with the shift from being the daughter of an enlisted man to the wife of an officer; and Wendy, a black woman from South Carolina who confronts the harsh realities of racial discrimination for the first time.
As a former Mrs. Lieutenant herself, Phyllis Zimbler Miller writes from experience, and that experience shines through in a moving novel that showcases the struggles of officers’ wives during the Vietnam War. Zimbler Miller does a great job showing the fears of these women as they contend with the fact that their husbands likely will go to war. I could feel their fears myself, and had my own husband not left the National Guard several years before we married, they might be fears I’d know first hand right now.
I’ve always been interested in reading books that take place during the Vietnam War. My father was an MP in the Air Force and served in Vietnam long before he married my mom and had children, and he’d tell me some stories about his experiences. I’m even more interested in reading them now that my father’s been dead for nearly 9 years, and he never got the chance to tell me the stories he kept locked inside. I heard stories from my mother about how she woke up in the middle of the night with my father’s hands around her neck, obviously having nightmares. And I remember walking with my husband and friends through Washington, D.C., when I was seven months pregnant, determined to visit the Vietnam Wall on behalf of my dad and say prayers for the men he served with whose names are listed.
I’ve read novels about serving in the war and the psychological impact of the war on returning soldiers, but until Mrs. Lieutenant, I never read a book about the wives of those men who served. Zimbler Miller’s novel is important because it preserves a part of our history, a part that often is overlooked. She also does a marvelous job detailing the anti-war sentiment, racial and religious discrimination, and social divisions within military ranks. Not only did I enjoy reading each woman’s story, but I also learned a lot about the military and the expectations of officers’ wives.
Zimbler Miller begins each chapter with a snippet of news from the time period, as well as a quote from Mary Preston Gross’ Mrs. Lieutenant, a sort of etiquette book for officers’ wives. The women are expected to learn how to properly write and respond to invitations, as well as how to serve tea, among other things. Such things are important, given that the quote on the first page of the novel states that the government gains both the officer and his wife. In addition to dealing with fears of their husbands’ deployment, the women must contend with secrets from the past and how their actions could help or hinder their husbands’ military careers. They are thrust together to plan the entertainment portion of the AOB officers’ wives’ graduation luncheon, and they quickly form a strong bond because, no matter the differences of race or religion, they understand one another.
In Mrs. Lieutenant, Zimbler Miller has created a cast of strong female characters. In the face of a decision that could mean life or death for their husbands, they do not crumble. Their fear might cause them to waiver or break down, but they rise up again. They have no other choice. Sharon says it best on page 453: “There’s such a thing as quiet heroism. The kind that doesn’t bring attention to itself. The kind that just does a good job.”
Disclosure: I won Mrs. Lieutenant in a blog contest. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2008 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.