Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit

genre: historical fiction

The wives of Los Alamos didn't know WHY they were in Los Alamos. That wasn't information that could be discussed - even hinted at.  The wives of Los Alamos did what wives do: clean their house, cook their family's food, care for their children.  But they did these things in a tiny, barely constructed town that didn't technically exist, where their food had to be procured by the US Army and where their husbands went to work each day on a project they weren't allowed to understand.

They were from all over, their very cloistered life magnified to a great degrees all the little things that women can tend to (really, sometimes have to) worry about, as well as create a tiny fish bowl where everyone knows everyone else's business.    When their "project" is finally revealed in all its terrifying glory, the aftermath is just as complicated as its construction.

I have never read a book in this narrative style - there is no main character.  No plot, really - it's more a communal novel, written in first person plural.  Their story, the story of the women, is told from its essential beginning to its end but it's not ONE person's story.  Everything is "we" and "our." It's a cross section, an attempt at showing the patriotic unity on the surface of the more jealous, petty and unfaithful.  The balance sometimes felt a bit off for a historical fiction - really, THAT many women cheated on their husbands, were spiteful and bitter?   I know I didn't live then and maybe these sorts of feelings really were the product of a society where women were told what limited jobs were acceptable and behavior codes were so strict when it was time to be sociable that there had to be a backlash somehow?

I did like it, although truthfully, I kept waiting for more, somehow.  I maybe NEED a character, one particular person to feel rooted to - even if her experience somehow excludes the experiences of everyone else.  I did really appreciate the ethical discussion at the end, how very differently people looked at the issue and how, I think, we still struggle with this today: was it right?  For these women, that question was so close, so sharp and real that I can imagine it changed everything.

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