In her debut novel, Andria Williams gives a fictionalized account of a meltdown that occurred (in real life also) in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The narrative is intimate, the characters palpable; all told, this was a strong read. Many thanks go to Random House and Net Galley for this galley, which I was given free of charge in exchange for an honest review; I rate this novel 3.5 and round it up. The book becomes available for purchase January 12, 2016. You’ll see this post again sometime nearer publication.
Those of us that lived through the 1960’s will recognize how authentically Williams renders even the smallest details in setting, both the physical and social, of the Unites States during that time period. Home, clothing, and point of view are rendered expertly. This writer personally loved the depiction of a blend of meat, starch, and dairy with some canned fruit tossed in as a “balanced meal”. Yes, yes, and yes. Even more, I love the moment when our protagonist, Nat, tells her children, “A little sugar will perk you right up.”
I swear to you…this is what it was like!
Add to the extremely narrowly defined social mores of Caucasian Americans living in middle income homes during this time, the even more rigid expectations of military wives at that time, and a woman could nearly suffocate. And people grew up much faster back then; in one’s mid-twenties, it was usual to be not only out of the house and married, but to have a couple of kids, maybe not to even live near any family.
So when Nat’s husband, Paul, is transferred from sunny San Diego to Idaho Falls, Nat knows she and the girls will just have to make the best of it. She puts on her cheerful-helper smile and launches herself wholeheartedly into this new, stark environment. And Paul will be working at the Idaho Falls nuclear research facility. Note that this was not a place that generated power for anyone or anything; further, it was outdated. And we experience a definite chill when Paul sees things that are dangerous and should be reported, and he is cautioned not to make waves.
A particularly attractive character (from a literary standpoint) is Paul’s boss’s wife, Jeannie, a complex, fascinating character who would have had a lively career of her own had she been born in another time. At one point she loses it with her husband:
“Oh, how I wish I had your job,” Jeannie sneered. “I would be so much better at it than you.” And you know she would have been, too. Not any nicer, but definitely more proficient.
There are so many other fascinating details here, but I can’t spoil the surprises. A small but frustrating discrepancy toward the story’s end left me a bit confused at an otherwise exciting time in the story, and that is where half a star fell off my rating.
But don’t let it stop you from reading this gem. This will be an author to watch in future years!