Tag Archives: desert

Book Opinion: The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbitt

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I was attracted to this book because when I first got married, my husband was in the Air Force and stationed at Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I gave up my home, my friends and my car and moved to the middle of nowhere with him. I’m from Ohio, so I’m used to green, and water, and soft spring air. I’m used to mist and rain and vegetation so lush at certain times of year that it feels like a rain forest. I’m used to sweet smells like honeysuckle and rich dark earth. Then, I moved to the desert.

The wooden seat of my grandmother’s rocking chair cracked from the dryness. I couldn’t ride my bike because of the altitude. It made my head whirl and my stomach sick to exercise, so I gained about twenty pounds. My skin dried out, my lips cracked and the inside of my nose would peel off and bleed every time I blew it. The anchor stores in the mall were K-Mart and some janky little place called Beall’s that I’d never heard of and did not like. We had one car and I was without it most of the time when my husband went to “work” on the base, and I put “work” in quotes, because most of what they did was play cards and stupid tricks on each other. Nine out of ten work days resulted in my husband coming straight home, or being home in about two or three hours because there was nothing to do and they sent everyone home. That was a good thing because my loneliness knew no bounds. Friends of ours got an illicit kitten, illicit, because our complex did not allow pets. I wanted one because I was lonesome, so we got a tiny black kitten I named Sara. She slept on my chest and chased away nightmares.

On the plus side, we had a lot of fun. It was like being in college. There were parties every weekend, and we went to most of them. Our friend Dan had us over for dinner one night and cooked steaks on the grill. I like mine well done, but these were charcoal. I yummed, and put ketchup on it and ate the parts with actual meat left in them. I drank some Seagram’s Seven in coke and like to died. To this day, I cannot stand to see even the label on a bottle in the store. Finally the day came when most all of our friends left and my husband got out of the service and we stayed. He went to work for a civilian contractor on the base, doing the same job and making three times as much money. When our friends left, it no longer felt like college, he actually had to work, and I got lonelier. Eventually, we too left and moved on to bigger and better things, but that part of my life, while miserable in so many respects was also a happy time for us. Nobody built a bomb, or did much that was top secret, but the parallels between that experience and the experiences described in /The Wives of Los Alamos/ were definitely there.

The book is written in first person, but uses “we” and “our” for example instead of “I” and “me.” For the first couple of pages, it was a little confusing, but it soon became comfortable. It was used to great effect to illustrate the communal, “we’re all in the same boat, and one is much like the other” circumstances these women found themselves in. The husbands were all physicists, recruited to work on the atomic bomb and as part of agreeing to do so, they demanded that they be allowed to bring their families. The families had no idea where they were going until they got there, and once they knew, they were not allowed to tell anyone at home. Their letters were read by censors, care package treats were stolen by censors, cars were searched, requests to leave denied and husbands were largely absent and stressed when they WERE around.

We learn about the difficulties of being without the familiar, with drying out like the desert sand, having very little water, relationships, kids, pregnancies, loss, fear, worries about the war and the brothers and friends who were fighting it, getting comfortable and then leaving. We also learn about the joys of friendship, parties, finding ways to pass the time. There are brief mentions of Oppenheimer and some of the other famous names associated with the project, but nothing too specific. This is definitely the women’s story, and really, you could call it the woman’s story, because as unique as each individual was, once they arrived at Los Alamos, they were all more or less the same.

I highly recommend this book, and not just because it reminds me of my own life. It is historical fiction from the point of view of the overlooked. It didn’t matter what these women did before they ended up in Los Alamos, or what they did after they left; while they were there, they were the wives of the men who ended a war and changed the world, for better or worse is a matter of opinion.

Have a great day and spend part of it with a great book 🙂

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Book Opinion: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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Homelessness and extreme poverty are a problem where ever there are people. In our modern times the hows and whys of both have been debated endlessly. Fingers are pointed, politicians, corporations, heartless right wingers, teachers and just about every other group you can think of have been blamed. Getting out of such conditions has been deemed next to impossible and governments the world over have bankrupted their countries with social programs designed to “rescue” the homeless and the poor. All, apparently, to no avail because there are still millions of homeless and poor people all over the world.

/The Glass Castle/ addresses these topics and may cause you too look at these issues from a different point of view. The Walls family, Rex and Rose Mary and their four children are the epitome of a dysfunctional family. Neither parent is ever regularly employed for any length of time. They roam like nomads all over the American southwest living in dusty, dying little towns in whatever housing they can find. They regularly leave behind everything in the middle of the night to escape debt collectors or children’s services. Having a steady supply of the basics of life, including food seldom happens.

As the children grow older, they start trying to fill the responsibility void left by their parents, but it is hopeless. Their parents want to be outside the norm of society. They are negative about every social convention that makes life comfortable for everyone else. Rose Mary is an artist, and finds money for canvases and paint when her children have no food. When her kids talk her into using her teaching degree to work and get them food and clothing, they have to make her go to work and they grade papers and fill out forms for her. The teaching jobs never last long, because even schools in dried up, dying desert towns want teachers who actually work. Rex is even worse. He is a brilliant man with a variety of ideas that he promises to work on, but never does. He is a desperate alcoholic who’s brilliance shines less and less as he gets drunker and drunker. His brushes with sobriety never last and make the drunk spells even sadder, because you realize that if he’d stop drinking, he could do so much.

The family’s situation gets so bad that they eventually make it across the country to the dismal mining town in West Virginia where Rex grew up. The landscape, the people, his family and the elements do not make their situation better. As the children get older, they begin to separate from their family; they develop plans to get out and make actual lives for themselves. During conversations with their parents, especially as they get older, they truly come to realize that their parents have chosen to live the way they do. They have no desire to live in a different way. They do not want to change their circumstances. There is not one thing that their children, or social workers of any kind or the government can do to make them change.

There is a beautiful wedding photo of Rex and Rose Mary at the beginning of the book. They look like any other newly married couple you’ve seen, beautiful and full of promise. There is no clue in that picture of the way they will choose to live their lives and raise their children. It’s a little sad really, to look at it after you’ve read the book.

/The Glass Castle/ is a well written memoir that illustrates all too clearly some hot button issues in society, and a very different way of looking at them. Most people who are homeless and/or profoundly poor, want to be anything else, but I now know that there ARE some people who for whatever reason, CHOOSE to live in a way that I cannot imagine. It also reminds us that no matter how desperate your situation may be, if you have the desire to change your life you can. It won’t necessarily be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but it CAN be done. This book is incredibly interesting, and frustrating and infuriating, but it’s great.

Have a great day and READ something 🙂