Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Book review: Be all that you can be… to support the mission, a central theme of ‘The Wives’

By Ron Sylvester For The Spokesman-Review

“The Wives” hit close to home.

The memoir by Simone Gorrindo reminded me of stories I’d heard my stepdaughter talk about being married to an Army officer, which means you are hitched to the military complex, too. Her experiences are in ways so much different having a spouse as a high-ranking commander but in others very much the same as Gorrindo’s marriage to an enlisted soldier.

Both husbands served in the special forces in the same wars. I don’t know if they were in the same outfit, but I imagine their experiences were similar. I even finished the book while visiting the family on an Army base.

This is quite different from the usual war story, in that it centers on the wives left behind to run households and keep the family together during the husbands’ deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is the ultimate story of women supporting women.

After Simone marries Andrew, a man she grew up, and eventually fell in love with, he decides his future is with the Army, specifically the special forces. She gives up a dream job as an editor in New York City to move to Columbus, Georgia, where they are stationed at Fort Benning.

She quickly learns the hierarchy of rank and file, who she as the wife of a private can befriend and who will be merely social acquaintances.

“When I’d left New York, I’d had my editor job for only a year, and there were days I worried someone was going to escort me out of my office and tell me a terrible mistake had been made,” Gorrindo writes. “But I’d relied on my Senior Editor title as a crutch. It was shorthand that communicated my place in the world. Here, I was just a private’s wife. I didn’t know much about the Army, but I knew it didn’t get any lower than that.”

Independent and self-sufficient, Simone is not prepared for the rigors of war, monthslong deployment, and the Army rituals, which include hazing and the rigors of Ranger school. Each brings an emotional strain she wasn’t expecting.

Gorrindo’s writing is alive with introspection as she describes watching her gentle and thoughtful husband turn into a soldier carrying out deadly missions in the dark of night a world away. Army security keeps her from knowing details and guessing at what her husband’s life is like in most of the time he spends on the other side of the world.

“Before we got here, I had thought about how war might change Andrew, but I had never paused to consider how the culture of a storied institution might mold him, alter they way he spoke and walked and saw the world,” Gorrindo writes later, after her husband has been promoted. “Sometimes, when he came home, he’d bark in my direction and I’d have to remind him I wasn’t one of his privates. More and more, the Andrew who returned at the end of the day was Andrew the soldier, the sergeant, not Andrew my husband. The problem with that was Andrew the husband was Andrew the soldier.”

Gorrindo builds such tension in her marriage, created by the Army and war, that I had to stop in the middle and read the author’s biography in the back to see if they were still together. She lives with “her husband” in Tacoma, it read. But was this the same husband? Had she moved on? I’d have to keep reading.

But the real story here is about the soldier’s wives. Here is a group of women with little in common other than the Army, randomly thrown together on a patch of American soil in the deep south, who would not have become friends had they lived in the same town under other circumstances. They don’t have much in common, in interests, in books, in philosophy or in politics. Yet they form their own battalion of tough, courageous troopers fighting against a common enemy, the U.S. Army. We get to know and care about Rachel, and Haley, Jo and Maggie and Sadie, and we come to realize they just might be the strongest of the lot. Of course, these aren’t their real names. Gorrindo has changed names to protect privacy. But her writing makes them unmistakably real.

They battle fatigue and deep depression and navigate a world where respect and support are merely frosted toppings disguising layers of misogyny. Gorrindo’s book sandwiches a time before and after the Army allowed women in combat roles, so women are squarely kept in roles of the past – something hard to get your head around for anyone who has lived in the rest of the modern world.

There are also lighter times, when Gorrindo has to accompany her husband, and other wives to backyard barbeques held by commanders, with lawn games and bounce houses for children. I’ve been to such parties, and it’s easy to spot the people who come because they have to.

There’s also the drama of the wives waiting in the dark, jumping at each ring of a phone or flash of headlights, wondering if they will be delivering the message that they will never see their husbands again.

You cheer for these wives, cry with them and wonder if they will ever get to go back to life the rest of us would recognize as normal.