Wednesday, December 2, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Longest Night by Andria Williams

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Two things that require daily maintenance, careful tending, and honest communication are a marriage and a nuclear reactor. In Andria Williams’ beautiful novel, The Longest Night (to be released in January), we see the terrible results of neglecting both.

Set in Idaho Falls in the early 1960's, at the site of the nation’s only fatal nuclear reactor accident, the novel follows specialist Paul Collier and his wife, Nat, as they try to make a life for themselves as a military family. Paul has brought Nat and their two young daughters to this remote town on a two year tour that he hopes will establish his career and stabilize their economic situation. Paul grew up poor and abused, and wants with all his heart to do right by the family he loves. Nat grew up on the San Diego beaches. More of a free spirit, with a loving generous nature, she is stifled by the expectations of proper military wife behavior. She and Paul don’t quite fit in to the culture in Idaho Falls, but they pretend for each other’s sake.

At work, Paul is oppressed by his supervisor, Master Sergeant Richards, a bully and a drunk, who does anything but supervise. When problems arise at the reactor, which they do frequently, Richards wants them quietly taken care of without alerting anyone up the chain of command. They are supposed to cook the logbooks so that it appears everything is fine. This breakdown of procedure and coverups of dangerous equipment malfunctions is horrifyingly realistic.

The book also shows us the voice of Richards’ wife, Jeannie. Outwardly the consummate military wife, Jeannie is a seething ball of resentment. She despises her incompetent, womanizing husband. Still, she defines herself as the perfect example of supportive housewifery. Every detail of her homemaking is a notch above. Jealous of Nat’s "happy" marriage, she keys in on Nat’s awkwardness and capitalizes on it—a grown-up example of a mean girl.

If Paul and Nat were able to talk openly about their insecurities, the cracks in their marriage would not split so wide. If Paul were able to report the problems at the reactor to someone who cared more about safety and responsibility than passing the buck to protect his own flailing career, a fatal nuclear disaster might have been averted.

This is a wonderful portrayal of flawed but mostly sympathetic characters. Sometimes their mistakes are painful to read because you can see the train wreck coming. Yet their justifications as they are struggling to do their best in bad situations are poignant. And when it is too late to sidestep the wreckage, they must live with the consequences of situations they helped to create.


  1. This sounds interesting. I'm really drawn to stories set in the '60's.

  2. What a wonderful review to read, Susan. I would almost say it's as good as the novel!