Book Review: The Longest Night by Andria Williams

The Longest NightThe Longest Night by Andria Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Random House
Summary:  In 1959, Nat Collier moves with her husband, Paul, and their two young daughters to Idaho Falls, a remote military town. An Army Specialist, Paul is stationed there to help oversee one of the country’s first nuclear reactors—an assignment that seems full of opportunity.

Then, on his rounds, Paul discovers that the reactor is compromised, placing his family and the entire community in danger. Worse, his superiors set out to cover up the problem rather than fix it. Paul can’t bring himself to tell Nat the truth, but his lies only widen a growing gulf between them.

Lonely and restless, Nat is having trouble adjusting to their new life. She struggles to fit into her role as a housewife and longs for a real friend. When she meets a rancher, Esrom, she finds herself drawn to him, comforted by his kindness and company. But as rumors spread, the secrets between Nat and Paul build and threaten to reach a breaking point. 

Based on a true story of the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in America, The Longest Night is a deeply moving novel that explores the intricate makeup of a marriage, the shifting nature of trust, and the ways we try to protect the ones we love.

4 enthusiastic stars for The Longest Night. This hit most of the things I like in "contemporary" historical fiction. The Colliers could definitely be the Wheeler's 2.0 (Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates) kicking off the 60s. There's angst, aspiration, desperation and flirtation with ruination on display which made for overall, an engrossing read.

I won't spoil here, but I will say that Nat and Paul's frustrations and mistakes as a couple and individuals were well drawn and I wanted very much to know how or if they would work things out in the end. Paul, with his idealized and frankly, childish view of Nat as it relates to his idea of goodness had an undercurrent of malice that bubbled to the surface a couple times. It wasn't pretty. While I found Nat's feelings for Esrom quite a bit selfish on her part and cruel to both Paul & Esrom, it felt true. I still hoped for good ends for them all and Nat especially, had a good one.

Esrom, our local cowboy/volunteer fireman was too good to be a true. Save his crush on Nat, he didn't have anything that could much be construed as a flaw let alone an actual personality. He's just good. Full stop. On the other side of the street holding the flag for Big Bad's are Mitch and Jeannie Richards (Mitch is Paul's oft drunk and completely derelict of duty Master Sergeant at the reactor site). They have it all really, cravenness, cruelty and are proof enough that opposites don't always attract as these two bullies found one another and have reigned a pain campaign on others and each other for nigh on 20 years. Jeannie is used to good effect in this sketch of life in a claustrophobic community and all the gossipy perils therein. I truly wished for some sort of comeuppance for her given what's revealed about her daughter. There was enough to dislike Mitch without a truly terrifying and most sinister scene with two Native women where one (Rose) is tied to the top of a car by him. The whole thing was disturbing and went quite the way to making Richards wholly irredeemable for me.

I'd not heard of the reactor accident at Idaho Falls before reading this book and I much appreciated the bits throughout that explained some of the details of the reactor and its workings. Mostly though, I found the relationships of the people in this story an engaging way of connecting to it. Andria Williams definitely has a way with imagery and some of her passages will stay with me. Chiefly, Esrom's mention of the two buck's with locked antlers who, because they couldn't or wouldn't work together worked at cross purposes to the point of their mutual demise. It felt like a metaphor for failed relationships. Well done.

Definitely recommended and if this is a top read for book clubs, I'll definitely understand why.

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