Today I'm writing about Wife and War: The Memoir by Amalie Flynn as part of a series about books that have come from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amalie graciously provided me with the Kindle edition of her book to review.
Somehow a year or so ago I came across Amalie Flynn's poetry blog. It's a quiet, stark place that stands apart from a world of flowery mom blogs and flag-adorned, combat-boots-plus-flip-flops-decorated military wife sites. The black-veiled woman on its banner seems like a widow: a reminder of how all of us--those who have sent our husbands off--hold that shadow in the backs of our minds. There's a bereavement there, even if it's only temporary. Those poems with their vivid imagery got me hooked on her unique writing style.
Wife and War is no generic military wife's tale, but Amalie's story, from college through marriage to motherhood. It's an intense journey through what is lost and gained as she leads a life she never expected.
The story opens with her in New York on the morning that will be that of the September 11th attacks. She was there, and by the time you finish you will feel like you were there too. In a strange way it feels fitting that she was present for an event that would eventually entangle her in the ensuing wars, regardless of whether she wanted to be. The reader moves through her processing of it as she revisits that day throughout the memoir, always in verse. She swings from this poetry to lilting prose throughout; she puts you in a cradle and sings you nursery rhymes that are frequently about terrible things. It's soothing, unnerving, and powerful.
From there, she leads you on into her life, accidentally meeting and marrying a military man and all that follows: the ensuing relocations, the unpredictability, and the uneasy conscience. "I have never known anyone in the military. And I don't believe in war." She spells out the feelings of this complicated life so very clearly. She is comforted by the knowledge that he's not that kind of military man--he's in the Navy!
Then her sailor gets deployment orders to a certain landlocked country--to work as, in effect, that kind of soldier.
In the snippets she shares of life while he is gone, there are echoes of what so many of us have gone through: how very long it stretches out before you ("My husband will be gone for fifteen months. This is the first night."); getting to the point where he hardly feels missing from your life anymore; the sometimes obscene contrast between your life and his; the brief flash of temptation that can ensue when he's gone--or rather, not temptation itself, but the awakening to the fact that it exists ("Still there is a charge I don't want in the air."); the sharp pain of your child missing his presence; the awkwardness when he returns; the long family recovery.
She tells their story with both a delicacy and a raw honesty. It's not an easy one and could easily be infused with self-pity over things like how isolated military wives can be from society and the sad things she and her family survived, but it feels more like an appropriate grieving, sorting through, and moving on into light. Near the beginning she writes, "...it will take me years to dig my words up, to rescue them, from between the bodies, to handle each letter like a relic, to piece them together into sentences like bones." It's worth the wait.
Perhaps it's my own branch-bias (Army!), but I was surprised at the extent to which this book reflected many a military wife's story in its themes, moments, losses, and gains. Anyone will be moved by her skillful manipulation of language and startling turns of phrase. I highlighted passage after passage simply because they resonated so strongly; she has a way of making you say, "Yes, that!" .There is no need for the reader to have military exposure--no lingo to decipher or acronyms to drown in. This is a haunting, gripping, beautiful memoir and one that I highly recommend buying.