A penetrating novel about the Iraq War’s inevitable collateral damage—the lives of the mothers and wives left behind.
In 2005, Ellen Silverman barely registers the war in Iraq, ensconced in her ivory tower, working on her beloved Edith Wharton novels. But then Mike joins up. Mike Cacciarelli is her ward, a wayward kid who found a family and a legal guardianship with Ellen. Her son, Wes, is at college, and her high school daughter, Jane, is finding herself (blonde dreadlocks, fighting for causes), so Ellen is snobbishly shocked that a boy half-raised in her bookish house would enlist. The novel’s second strand follows Lacey Diaz, married to Ed, a major in the Army Reserve on his second deployment. She knows their marriage is a mistake—straight-laced Ed sneers at Lacey’s wild side—but the union offered a stepfather for her son, stability, respect. While Mike is away, Ellen writes letters about pride and fear, sending him books on the absurdity of war. But then he’s injured, sent home with a missing leg, and Ellen is devastated. While Ed’s away, Lacey begins an affair with Jim, a good guy from the old neighborhood who loves her any way she comes. Then Ed is sent back, blind and brain injured; Lacey knows this is punishment for her adultery. The harrowing second half of the novel takes place at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Ellen and Lacey find themselves unlikely comrades in arms, negotiating the bureaucracy and sheer terror of their situation, the physical therapy and PTSD, and a future they don’t want to think about. Tedrowe’s examination of military families is honest and nuanced, and she manages to wrestle some kind of equanimity for the flawed heroes of her tale.
As more stories about Iraq appear, novels like Tedrowe’s, focused on the home front, will be a valuable contribution to our understanding of the war.