The Longest Night by Andria Williams
Every once in a while I receive a delivery of “advance reader’s copy” books. These are books in the final stages of production and the publisher sends them out to bookstore buyers and reviewers to read in advance of the publication – hoping of course for enthusiasm and good reviews. Only a few stand out and are books I am tempted to read, and if I feel they are worthy, I will place an order and be ready to make a recommendation to my customers.
The Longest Night, a first novel by Andria Williams, is more than worthy of our attention. I think I can guarantee you will not want to put it down. If you read at night as I do you will find the nights are indeed long.
The book centres on a young couple, Paul and Nat, parents to two little girls. Paul is in the military, trained to work on nuclear reactors and stationed in Idaho Falls, Idaho. It is the early 1960s. Married young, in love, and quite happy in their marriage Paul and Nat take their place in the social life of the military families.
We read about the past – the years before Paul and Nat met each other, and their very different childhoods and teenage years. Meeting each other, the instant chemistry, provided an escape for each of them from the life they found themselves living at that time. The military moved them away from their family, and the past, and into the optimistic future.
Paul works on a new prototype reactor, one designed for use in the remote far north. His crew works shifts, day or night, and though they are increasingly concerned about problems with the reactor, the officer in charge refuses to listen to their requests for assistance from the manufacturer.
Paul struggles with the tension at work because of his worries about the reactor and his deteriorating relationship with a senior officer. Nat has other worries, as much as she loves her daughters, she is beyond bored with her life as a stay at home Mom, the frivolous social lives of the other officers wives, and the lack of privacy in this little world on the base.
The Longest Night is a novel about the tensions that very different backgrounds can cause in a marriage, in spite of love and attraction. It is an accurate portrayal of the lives of military families, the wives regulated as much as their husbands in a hierarchy based on rank. It is also a portrait of the optimistic post war period, the baby boom years when everything seemed so promising.
It was only after I finished The Longest Night that I discovered the event in which these characters are placed was in fact real. The nuclear meltdown in 1961 in Idaho Falls, though much less well known than Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, provides just the right amount of suspense and tension for the author to propel her characters through a time and place culminating in a nuclear meltdown and it’s consequences. The Longest Night is a riveting novel - one I don’t hesitate to recommend.