Monday, February 24, 2014

The Wives of Los Alamos

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
Bloomsbury: 2/25/2014
Hardcover, 240 pages

ISBN-13: 9781620405031 

Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago—and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with P.O. box addresses in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together—adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery.
And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, the freedom they didn’t have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.
The Wives of Los Alamos is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history. It's a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.
My Thoughts:

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit is a fictionalized account of the experiences the wives endured as they moved to Los Alamos for their husband's jobs. They were a diverse group of people who were called together and forced into the mold of a community in a remote place all in support of a common cause that the woman knew little about. The novel chronicles their daily lives, hardships, entertainment, children, chores, etc. While this is fiction, it really feels like nonfiction as Nesbit lists what the women felt, or liked, or experienced as a result of living at Los Alamos.

The biggest hurdle/challenge to readers is that The Wives of Los Alamos is written entirely in the first person plural. Since I can't really quote from my advanced reader's copy, I've included a link to the publisher's website, Bloomsbury, that has an excerpt for interested readers to check out below. This is a book where you might want to read an excerpt before you try the book simply because of the style in which it is written. There are no main characters.

The daring choice to  write the entire novel in the first person plural does do a nice job of highlighting the similarities and differences between the women. At the beginning the collective "we" strongly reminded me of Tim O'Brien's short story "The Things They Carried" where O'Brien used the past tense "they" while chronicling what the soldiers carried. While I can see where exclusively using the first person plural for a story could be used to create a strong effect, I think it is more effective if used sparingly rather than for an entire novel. Personally I liked the tense choice at first and began to tired of it.

If you can handle a novel written entirely in the first person plural, The Wives of Los Alamos is highly recommended.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Bloomsbury via Netgalley for review purposes.

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