My friend Teresa suggested this book as the inspiration of a multi-continent skype session. Katie and I jumped onboard and we were soon underway. The three of us are married to Navy service members and thus, we are military spouses. Katie’s husband deployed to Guantanamo Bay, my husband deployed to Afghanistan and Teresa’s husband deployed with an aircraft carrier, so we have all faced deployments. Our were different from the pilot deployments Sarah Smiley writes about in her memoir, but the stresses and worries were the same.
This memoir covers the pre-deployment and deployment experiences of a military spouse, Sarah Smiley. She takes the reader on her emotional journey as she questions her marriage, digs around for her self-esteem, and laughs with her friends along the way.
A quick glance below will reveal that I have chosen to exclude any excerpts from this book. I had a guttural reaction against much of Ms. Smiley’s writing. As helpful as some of those passages might be in describing to you what I mean, I couldn’t bring myself to mark them as I was reading. You might say my immaturity was inspired by what I read on the page, and you might be right. I see it more as embracing my desire not to spend time engaging in activities that are negative for my psyche.
If you’re reading along, then you have probably gotten the hint that I do not have a favorable opinion of this book. Bingo! On the positive side of things, Ms. Smiley writes with a pleasantly humorous touch, and her honesty is applaudable. Yet, for all of her honesty about her marital doubts and her infidelity fantasizing, she barely scratches the surface of her role in each relationship. The book is full of excuses for her behavior, passing up moments for introspection and instead pinning the blame on others, and a complete lack of ownership in her actions. While she manages to take care of her children, help her fellow military spouses, and finally mow her own lawn, these self-sustaining capabilities are still absent from her emotional experiences by the end of the book.
The book does provide a window through which we can see the stress put upon families of deployed military members. By looking around the scenes that Ms. Smiley describes, we can see how the other spouses manage and we can imagine how we might act. Ms. Smiley deftly shows us her role models in the group of military spouses, and we see much of Ms. Smiley in her depictions of her mother. Yet, she avoids contemplating any of these influences on her life and keeps herself and us busy with fantastical thoughts and creative evasions of reality.
As a military spouse, I can safely say that I found little of value in the relational aspects Ms. Smiley describes. Perhaps that is because I failed to identify with any aspect of her character, except perhaps her sense of humor, which is substantial. She embraces the female-male divide that I find outdated, she wallows in self-pity of her own choice, and she does not seek help available to her. Does Ms. Smiley portray the life of a military spouse? She portrays her version of it, most definitely. Yet, please do not read this book and think this is the representative version of a military spouse. Not that you would be so simple-minded to think that, and not that Ms. Smiley is so simple-minded to think she represents us all; this is more a book about Ms. Smiley than it is a book about military spouses.
For more about Sarah Smiley, see this New York Times Magazine piece about her.
Book website: http://www.sarahsmiley.com/