Monday, June 02, 2008

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

Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller
486 pages
Author's Website, here

What led you to pick up this book?
I was asked to review some books for a June blog tour and Mrs. Lieutenant was one that I requested.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Four women from diverse backgrounds, each with a husband attending 6 weeks of officers' training school (Armor Officer Basic) at Fort Knox, Kentucky in the year 1970 must adjust to being the wives of officers who may end up serving in Vietnam. As they deal with their conflicting emotions, they also become a part of the community of officers' wives and learn to overcome their prejudices.

What did you like most about the book? I loved the fact that it's emotionally involving, sometimes intensely emotional. Three of the women were totally new to army life and one was an army brat; but, regardless of their backgrounds and histories, they all had to contend with the fear that their husbands might end up in Vietnam and they could become widows. They all each had their own concerns about fitting in and different issues to deal with on the home front. One had a pathologically jealous husband and lived in constant fear that her husband would blow up if she even said a word to another man. Sharon, the main character, was a Jew raised in Chicago. She was quite fearful that she'd be an outcast in the South.

What did you think of the characters? I liked them, although at times I found some of their worries baffling. There was a little bit of a forced attribute to the book -- the fact that there was a Jew, a black, a Puerto Rican and an uneducated Southerner in that little group of friends made it seem almost staged. And, yet, from my limited experience around military folks, I've found that there tends to be a fairly representative cross-section of backgrounds and races in the armed forces. In the 1970's, the friendship between such a diverse group of young women probably would have turned heads and that's the major point. Would it be possible for those four women, each raised with their own fears and prejudices, to forge a deep friendship?

Share a favorite scene from the book: Donna's flashback scene was the most moving and meaningful scene, for me. It was the first time I had to trudge off to get the tissues and set the book aside. The fact that it moved me to tears made it a favorite, though. I liked being emotionally involved with the characters. It would give too much away to say anything beyond the fact that Donna had suffered a horrible loss. But, I can say that all 4 women -- Sharon, Donna, Wendy and Kim -- spent the 6 weeks of officer training adjusting but also occasionally coming unglued from the fear of what might lie ahead. Donna's story moved me the most, but there were at least 5 times I had to close the book to wipe my eyes.

Thumbs up - Mrs. Lieutenant is an emotionally engaging book that gives readers a view into the other side of military life -- the wife's viewpoint. I particularly liked the way the author began each chapter with a quote from the news, followed by a quote from the rule book for military wives. The contrast was startling and really made you stop to think about how wives had to present themselves and follow their own strict rules of society while inside they were wrestling with emotion.

In general:
There's nothing lyrical or beautiful about the writing in Mrs. Lieutenant, no flowery language, no lovely scenery. In fact, I'd describe the writing as pedestrian -- with almost a Hemingway-like abruptness to dialogue and prose. There are some grammatical errors and a few tense problems. But, it's a quick read and I didn't feel pulled away from the storyline by the writing style. It didn't stop me from caring about the characters or shedding tears when they were distraught.

If I was going to complain about anything at all, it would be the fact that the author didn't seem to have a depth of understanding about Southerners; vernacular should be avoided if you don't know the language. Beyond that, the book is about overcoming prejudices and misconceptions, dealing with the fear of what may come, learning a completely new way of life and banding together. That's what's important and I think the author did a pretty fine job of describing what it's like to be a military wife, thrown into a totally new place with no acquaintances while facing the terror of potentially saying goodbye to a husband.

Almost finished with: Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman

Later on: Babble about the weirdness of my weekend and the tree that sounds like it's going to take off


  1. I'm the author of MRS. LIEUTENANT and I first want to say thanks for not giving away Donna's secret. Second, I'm so glad that the story touched you. That's why I wrote the book -- because the actual experience touched me. And while the story seems made up -- I, a Jew, was the chair of the entertainment committee with a Southern white, a black, and two Puerto Ricans (one who didn't speak English) on my committee.

    I wrote the book to preserve this specific slice of women's social history. (You can see original 1970 army documents on my website at Thank you so much for appreciating what I tried to achieve.

  2. Hi Phyllis,

    Thanks for dropping by! First, you're welcome, regarding Donna. I absolutely hate it when important plot points are "given away" in a review and Donna's story is especially touching. I had a big soft spot for Donna. MRS. LIEUTENANT is definitely a deeply moving read; from this reader's standpoint I can say you totally succeeded at getting the depth of emotion and the individual concerns of 4 women from different backgrounds across.

    As to preserving social history . . . yep, perfect on that, too. I didn't mention that I could easily imagine myself worrying about whether or not I should wear gloves to various events. What a hassle that must have been!

    You also helped clarify why so many people hated Nixon. I was quite young at the time of the Vietnam War and never really understood why there was such lingering animosity toward Nixon (you know, Watergate aside -- admittedly, I shy away from politics). I always thought of him as the president who ended the Vietnam War; I had no real understanding of his role at all.

    Do you know what I remember most vividly about the end of the Vietnam War? I remember realizing that there had never been a time in my memory that there were no casualty reports on the news. I was 10 when Nixon was reelected in '72.

  3. I burst out in tears when I got to your last paragraph about no casualty reports on the evening news. (Which is why I didn't watch the news at that time.)

    And while I also stay away from politics, I will tell you that Nixon did indeed "end the war" in order to be re-elected in '72. I talk about this more in the sequel to MRS. LIEUTENANT that I'm working on now.

    Also, the particular Donna moment to which I believe you're referring actually happened. To this day I remember (I had just turned 22) the shock of that moment.

  4. Phyllis,

    Sorry to make you cry. (((hugs))) That was definitely a horrible daily event and I can understand why you avoided the news.

    You really did educate me. As I was reading, I realized that the comments about Nixon made total sense. I was just way too young to understand the political process and never have spent any time reading about it (apart from a couple of memoirs). I wondered if you were planning a sequel! Yea!

    Sometimes folks read the comments, so I'll just assume you know what moment I was referring to. I can well imagine why that stuck with you all these years.

  5. Okay, I can definitely see this one being added to the old wish list!

  6. Debi,

    Yes, but you must buy a copy so that I can get some blame points. Still waiting . . .

  7. It's my belief trees should stay put.

    Mrs. Lieutenant sounds pretty interesting. My uncle was in the Air Force during the Vietnam years, although he never did go there.

  8. Wow, Bookfool, I love the way you reviewed this...very different than the way other reviewers do it. I also want to thank you so much...I know you have made Phyllis a happy woman, lol.

  9. Carrie,

    You crack me up. The tree is not going anywhere; it just sounds like it. :)

    Your uncle was fortunate. I learned a great deal from the book; it's interesting how many irrational assumptions I made, based on my own pretty little world. I had a lovely childhood.


    Thanks! I'm glad you like that format. I use it off and on, depending on my mood. I hope I made Phyllis happy. :)

  10. 'at least 5 times I had to close the book to wipe my eyes.'

    That's so awesome. I love books like that. Thanks Bookfool.

  11. Kookie,

    Me, too. The words "emotionally involving" are good words. I just found a new release that I am certain is a Kookie book, last night. I'll pop over and tell you all about it.

  12. Excuse me, I live in a world where trees can decide to up and move away. What if they don't like the new neighbors? Hmmm? Tree-cism is a terrible thing, you know.

  13. LOL! Carrie, you're such a nut. Treecism. I love it.

  14. Stop it, PZM. I keep finding you all over the internet, and I'm being hypnotized to buy the book.

    What should I do? :-)


  15. Malcolm,

    Butting in here -- just give in to the dark side and buy it.

  16. I knew you'd like that. ;)

  17. What a good, in-depth review. I like how you hit some highs and lows without giving anything away, in a non-biased way. I also like how you were able to look beyond the flaws, as you saw them, and still enjoy the book. After all, it is the story that is one of the most important factors in the book. If that's good, other things (like grammatical errors) can be forgiven. I am looking forward to reading this book. Good luck, Phyllis!

  18. Margay,

    Thank you. I really enjoy the book. I'm still thinking about it, now and then, which means it really touched me deeply. And, I completely agree with you on that comment about the story being what's most important.

  19. Margay --
    Thanks again for sharing a comment about MRS. LIEUTENANT. (I do feel badly about any errors -- but then I find errors in books written by famous authors.)


  20. Bookfool --
    Loved your comment that you think of the book after reading it because it touched you. That's why I've wanted to tell this story for 38 years -- because the experience never left me.

  21. So do I, so don't feel bad. That internal editor never seems to take a break! But I wouldn't worry about it if it doesn't detract from the book (and from what I've read in the blogosphere, it doesn't). As I've said before, the story is more important than a grammatical error; if the story's strong, errors can be over-looked. I'm so glad your tour is going well. Continued success!


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