#81 ~ Mrs. Lieutenant

June 24, 2008 at 8:00 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Religion | 17 Comments
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Cover of Mrs. Lieutenant

Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

A special thanks to Lisa from Books on the Brain for hooking me up with this book and the blog tour and to Phyllis Zimbler Miller for sending me a copy of this book.

Mrs. Lieutenant tells the story of four very different newlywed women who share only one thing in common – their husbands are in training to become officers in the United States Army at Ft. Knox during the Vietnam War. Robert and Sharon Gold are a Jewish couple from Chicago, Kim and Jim Benton are a Southern Baptist couple from North Carolina, Wendy and Nelson Johnson are a black couple from South Carolina, and Donna and Jerry Lautenberg are a bi-racial couple. Donna is Puerto Rican whereas Jerry is Caucasian. Chance brings them together, but after forming the entertainment committee for the graduation luncheon for the wives of new officers, they learn that what makes each of them different provides them all the strength they need to prepare for their husbands’ possible deployment to Vietnam and the years of marriage to come.

Sharon Gold is the main character of this novel. She grew up in a Jewish family in Chicago. Instead of attending a more liberal school, she chose to study at Michigan State University. It is there that her support for the anti-war demonstrations held on campus that led to her chance meeting with Robert, a member of MSU’s ROTC. Robert was unlike most of his fellow ROTC cadets: he was Jewish and he quoted poetry. Much to Sharon’s own surprise, she falls in love and marries a soldier committed to doing his patriotic duty by serving as an officer in the Army. Sharon struggles not only with her beliefs about her country’s war in Vietnam, but with the prejudice she and her husband have and will continue to face as Jews.

Kim Benton never left North Carolina until she and her husband crossed over the Virginia border on their way to Ft. Knox, Kentucky. Kim grew up in the foster care system after the tragic death of her impoverished parents. She loves her husband, who has big dreams for his future in the military, but leaving her sister behind is not something that comes easy for her. As the older of the siblings, she feels a great deal of responsibility toward her sister. To her, Kentucky is a world away from North Carolina and she clings to her husband for dear life. She dearly needs to be and feel loved, no matter what her jealous husband might put her through.

Wendy Johnson grew up in South Carolina as the only child of doctor and his wife in South Carolina. Although there was a great deal of prejudice encountered by black Americans living in the South, Wendy’s parents sheltered her from it, almost excessively. It was only after she met and married Nelson that the curtain was parted for her and she began to see the challenges that her husband faced his entire life. In addition to facing the world with her eyes wide open, Wendy also has to come to terms with her parents’ reservations about her husband and his chosen career. The trip from being a doctor’s daughter to living in a mobile home was shocking for her.

Donna Lautenberg grew up as an Army brat. Her father made a career as an enlisted man in the Army. She moved from place to place throughout her childhood following her father’s career. Although she lived in a loving family, she always felt less than her classmates and other army brats because of her nationality. When she caught the eye of her husband, she faced this fear head-on, concerned that her in-laws wanted and expected more (i.e. blond, blue-eyed, American) in a daughter-in-law. Coming to Ft. Knox as an officer’s wife is a culture shock for her. Although she spent all of her life in the army, the life of enlisted families, officers were an entire class altogether.

This novel is as much about prejudice as it is about learning to be an officer’s wife. The unlikely grouping of these women definitely bring this out. While the experiences of each of these women during that time in history felt very realistic to a reader who had not even been conceived yet, there was also a part of this that rubbed me the wrong way. Kim, as the white representative of the group who was also from the South, was singled out from among the group as the one person who actually held prejudice. While her upbringing led her to be distrustful of those who were different from her, Kim’s views of other broadened along with her experiences. Sharon, who was keenly perceptive of Kim’s original beliefs, seemed to miss Kim’s growth. For someone more educated, I found it discouraging that Sharon continued to put Kim in a box like that while being entirely oblivious to her own prejudices against Southerners. There were several statements she made about Kim that, if you substituted the word “black” for “Southerner,” could have been Sharon’s own. This really bothered me as I was finishing up the novel, but it also made me think. No one is perfect. Not every prejudice is as blatant or as perceptively ugly as racism and antisemitism. Education and experiencing discrimination first hand does not preclude someone from holding their own prejudices.

What I enjoyed the most about this novel was the experiences of these women as they learned how to be an Army officer’s wife during the early 1970s from watching others and by reading “Mrs. Lieutenant,” a book published to provide instruction on being a lady in the United States Army. The book, in a way, provided officer’s wives with their own form of boot camp. Instead of experienced soldiers screaming down their necks when they made mistakes, they get the cold shoulder or bemused glances from their elders. I found it interesting what was expected of a married woman not that long ago. Times have certainly changed.

My advise to you is to read this book in a club or with someone else. It is fast and the larger font size makes it easy to read. I would have loved to have read this book in a reading group. Just as with women of Mrs. Lieutenant, it would have been good to have people from all different walks of life discuss some of the topics that were brought up. Reading this book alone in a suite at the Palazzo in Las Vegas might sound glamorous (and it sure was luxurious!), but I was frustrated with having no one with whom to talk about these issues. Thankfully a couple of book blogging buddies pinch hit for me when I emailed about this book.

Where would we be without our friends?

You can download discussion guidelines directly from the book’s homepage.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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