Sunday, January 10, 2016

Nuclear Reactor Accident Inspires Novel

The Longest Night by Andria Williams is inspired by the only American fatal nuclear accident that occurred in 1961.

Young army wife Nat has come to Idaho Springs when her husband Paul is assigned to a nuclear reactor there. With two young children and no support system in place Nat struggles to adjust. Paul realizes that his boss is hiding problems in the plant and when he clashes with his superior he is sent to the Arctic for a six month deployment. Left on her own, a pregnant Nat finds an unlikely friendship and support from a local man. Vicious rumors isolate her from the other wives and threaten her marriage as Paul wonders if he can trust his wife.

The accident in the novel is based an the actual accident which took the lives of three men. Read about the SL-1 reactor and the accident at http://www4vip.inl.gov/publications/d/proving-the-principle/chapter_15.pdf. An Army video illustrates in detail what happened on youtube here.

We recognize in Nat the 60s housewife yearning for more than children and kitchen. I could relate to Nat. Military wives and itinerant pastor wives face some of the same problems: lack of control over when one moves, where one moves, and housing; the need to find friends and support in new communities; husbands with stressful jobs and limited pay. Although the army families had some socializing there was not a lot of mutual support. She is a spirited but idealistic young woman.

I found Nat better drawn than Paul whose actions sometimes baffled me. Nat contends he was not violent by nature, but he hits his boss several times, participates in a near fatal road rage accident, and judges his wife without hearing her story. I actually wondered why she didn't run off with the loving and sensitive local guy.

I was interested to learn about early nuclear reactors and how they worked. The accident was gruesome; the cover-up disturbing.

Readers will find the novel an interesting study of a marriage and informative about early nuclear power.

I requested the book based on this review by David Abrams, author of Fobbit, whose blog I read:
"It's hard to believe The Longest Night is Andria William's debut novel. Her command of language, character, and plot--the three essential ingredients for a riveting read--is extraordinary. This is the book I will be pressing into my friend's hands this year when they ask me what they should be reading."

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Longest Night
Andria Williams
Random House
Publication January 12, 2016
$27.00 hard cover
ISBN:9780812997743