Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

First person plural: TaraShea Nesbit has chosen an unusual voice to narrate her debut novel and I like it. The Wives of Los Alamos is just what the title says it is, about a group of women whose lives happened to get thrown together because their husbands were working on a top-secret war project. The atomic bomb.

In 1943, hundreds of perplexed women arrived at a site in New Mexico that was mostly mud, plus some newly-erected homes and temporary shelters. They had many different backgrounds, personalities and ways of coping, yet their experience was also a shared one.

"We sometimes resented how our husbands asked us to step out of the room in our own house so they could talk to their friends late into the night. And some of us spied and heard things, and some of us would never eavesdrop though we really, really wanted to, and some of us did not even think to listen to what our husbands and their friends were talking about because we were too busy thinking about our own worries; what Shirley meant when she said that thing yesterday, how to stretch the ration coupons to make a nice dinner tomorrow."

The only place to shop was the army commissary. There wasn't much to do besides make babies and raise families.

"On the mesa, when we felt restless, sleepy, antsy, distressed, and bored we went to the commissary, which did not console us at all."

photo by Laurie MacFayden
"In the autumn, when the aspens turned the mountains into multitudes of gold, we took walks alone. Although when we first arrived we thought hiking was boring, later we wanted to see all of the mountaintops. On the highest slopes, the smallest leaves of the aspens quaked. And we listened to them -- they were such exposed things holding on and making vulnerable, fluttering music -- and this quaking gave us a peaceful feeling. We stood there thinking of nothing except leaves, leaves, leaves."

"No matter how alone we felt there were things we could never do as individuals. A woman cannot conspire with herself. Alone, we were not a pack, a choir, or a brigade. But together, we were a mob of women armed with baby bottles and canned goods, demanding a larger commissary, and we got it. We were more than I, we were Us."

The Wives of Los Alamos takes a unique look at a historic time and place, while considering how a sense of community is built. Women's lives and their relationships with each other form the strong core of this satisfying novel.

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