Laura Trentham’s The Military Wife is a poignant, gently moving story that explores the various facets of military life as faced by the families of servicemen and women, who have to deal with challenges just as complex and difficult as their enlisted loved ones. It’s an entertaining and informative story in which the author examines serious issues such as depression and PTSD, and looks as well at the difficulty of putting down roots, holding down jobs and maintaining continuity when your partner could be transferred to another location at any time.
Harper Lee Wilcox lost her husband Noah when he was killed while on active service overseas five years earlier. Her son Ben was conceived just before that last deployment so he has never known his father, and although Harper sometimes worries about his lack of a father figure, he’s a bright, happy, well-adjusted little boy who is the light of her life. After Noah’s death, Harper and Ben moved in with Harper’s mother, who suggests that maybe it’s time for Harper to break out of the rather dull routine her life has become, doing books and taxes for a handful of local businesses and living really for Ben rather than for herself. Harper graduated from university with degrees in business and marketing, and right now she’s not using either of them; but with Ben now in school full-time, perhaps it is time for her to move forward in terms of her career and her personal life.
Harper is concerned about one of her dearest friends, Allison Teague, whose normally chatty, exuberant nature has seemed to dim of late, so Harper decides to pay her a short visit to see if there’s anything she can do to help. When she arrives, she finds the normally well put-together, upbeat Allison is a complete mess. She’s lost weight and carries an air of exhaustion around with her; her husband Darren is withdrawn, and short-tempered and hasn’t been the same since he returned from his last mission. Both women suspect he may be depressed or suffering from PTSD, but whenever Allison tries to broach the subject of getting help, he shuts her down.
Harper suggests that Allison should open up to some of the other military wives who belong to the support group she started, but Allison is reluctant. For one thing, their regular meet-ups never usually touch on serious subjects, and for another, Allison has always been the one to whom others turned for support; she’s the strong one, the capable one, and she’s worried about appearing weak.
Harper won’t let Allison off the hook though, and although it’s difficult for her, Allison shares her concerns about Darren and how scared she is for him and the future of their family. To her surprise, a number of the other women open up more about the issues that are really bothering them, such as coping with boredom and depression, or the resentment they feel at how their own lives have been relegated to second place to the demands of the military.
Harper starts thinking about ways in which she and the other women could put their skills to good use, and comes up with the idea of setting up some sort of business together. She received a large sum of money following Noah’s death which she still hasn’t touched – it can serve as start-up money – and eventually she comes up with the idea of opening a coffee shop near the base. I confess, this was the weakest – and least interesting – part of the story; the idea of the women coming together to use their skills was a good one, but there’s a coffee shop on every corner these days and I found it a rather uninspired proposition. Anyway. Allison is surprised to hear that Harper has such a large sum – $100,000 – at her disposal, but Harper tells her it’s the money that went with the bravery award she was given at Noah’s funeral. Allison has never heard of such a thing – so where did the money come from?
Bennett Caldwell was Noah Wilcox’s closest friend and was honour bound to carry out Noah’s dying request that he make sure Noah’s wife and son were taken care of. The author does a great job in some of the flashback portions of the novel of showing how Bennett, a product of the foster system and a taciturn loner, became friends with the sunny-natured Noah and of conveying the strength of the bond that developed between them through the gruelling BUD/s training and beyond. Bennett carries a huge burden of guilt over Noah’s death, which, at first, makes him reluctant to have anything to do with Harper when she tracks him down. Harper insists on returning the money; Bennett doesn’t want it – but Harper isn’t content to let the matter rest, realising that there’s more behind the gift of such a large sum than a simple desire to carry out Noah’s last wishes.
Harper and Bennett struggle with a mixture of conflicting emotions as they begin to fall for each other. Harper is a very down-to-earth young woman with an optimistic outlook, and although she knows Noah would want her to be happy, a tiny part of her can’t help feeling guilty over the idea that she might be falling in love again. And Bennett, who already carries a truckload of guilt over the death of the man who was the closest thing he ever had to a brother, is torn up over falling for the guy’s wife – and worries that if Harper knew what really happened on the day Noah died, she’ll want nothing more to do with him.
Even though it deals with some difficult subject matter, The Military Wife is ultimately an uplifting story about moving on and rediscovering one’s purpose in life. The author writes insightfully about the difficulties inherent in being married to someone in the military, and through the secondary storyline featuring Allison and Darren, shines a light on the dichotomy faced by men who return from war plagued by emotional trauma but who have been trained to be stoic and dispassionate, and for whom asking for help seems like an admission of failure.
Laura Trentham is known for writing contemporary romances, but I’d say The Military Wife fits more into the genre of Women’s Fiction, even though romance is an important part of the story. It’s a ‘quiet’ read, but one which packs a powerful emotional punch, and I’d recommend it to fans of the author and genre alike.
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