THE OFFICERS' WIVES by Thomas Fleming
Kirkus Star


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Working on the reasonable enough assumption that Misery Sells, veteran Fleming (Rulers of the City, etc.) makes his first, serviceable bid for big commercial success with a parade of wretched, mismatched marriages, three in particular--from West Point weddings in June 1950 to Korea and Vietnam postings to officer deaths (Vietnam, heart attack) in the late '60s. The primary wife-heroine here is would-be poet and nice-Catholic-girl Joanna, who, though suited to literate, sardonic Adam, instead weds decent, devoutly Catholic, by-the-book Army man Pete: he doesn't understand her poems, fiercely opposes birth control (even though pregnancy risks Joanna's life), is forever annoyed by her resistance to standard Army wifedom; she retreats into Zen (in Japan, after Pete is wounded in Korea), blames Pete when daughter Cissie is killed by a bomb in early-'60s Saigon, and turns against him during campus-ROTC protests; the marriage collapses, Pete returns to Vietnam (fatally), and Joanna winds up with a simpatico General. Meanwhile, things don't go much better for Joanna's soulmate Adam, who's married to gorgeous Southern belle Honor: when the initial chemistry wears off, Adam becomes fed up with Honor's lowbrow-ness, and when she is raped by a sergeant in Japan, it drives them further apart; Adam devotes himself to adultery, Pentagon intrigue, and issues (Army vs. Air Force, Green Berets vs. Regular Army, Vietnam dissent) while Honor breaks down and hobbles along on tranquilizers. And the third, least appealing couple is no happier but more successful: mild George Rosser and rich, Vassar wife Amy--who tirelessly pushes him up the social promotion ladder to General-dom (betraying her lover Adam along the way) and remains ""the model Can-Do spouse"" even amid frightening anti-Vietnam harassments in Washington and her daughter's rebellious hippie/groupie lifestyle. All in all, it's a one-dimensional saga, short on humor, with near-stereotypes in over-contrived situations. But it's effectively Saddening, and, despite some etude lapses and purple patches, Fleming lays it all out plainly and readably--with convincing backgrounds (the drone of Army-base life, and more attention to the complexities of history (the early Vietnam years especially) than usual in the table-bender genre. Even without the power of From Here to Eternity, then: a surefire, three-handkerchief, 21-gun salute.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday