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The Ocean Between Us    by Susan Wiggs order for
Ocean Between Us
by Susan Wiggs
Order:  USA  Can
Mira, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

The Ocean Between Us is set on Whidbey Island. It's just off the coast of Seattle and boasts one of the largest navel bases in the US. The story follows the lives of three women. Grace Bennet is a veteran navy wife who's spent the past two decades supporting her husband Steve, raising their kids and moving her family more often than she cares to remember. Lauren Stanton is a young widow and business woman, still grieving her husband. She's suddenly swept into an whirlwind romance with a brash pilot. And in a minor role, Patricia Rivera, newly married and pregnant, sees her husband Michael (an ordnance officer) off to sea for the first time.

Grace doesn't want to admit that something has gone wrong with her perfect marriage. But after twenty years of supporting every aspect of her husband's career, she wants a chance to pursue her own dreams. Against Steve's wishes, she buys a house and starts her own relocation business. Grace even feels the stirrings of attraction towards another man, who has the distinction of being her first client -- and who seems truly interested in what's going on in her life. Steve on the other hand, feels betrayed by Grace's sudden decision to veer away from their plan, one he believed she always supported. Things become even more tense when Grace discovers that Steve had been married and fathered a son before they ever met. And then she finds out that Josh will be serving on an aircraft carrier under Steve's command.

Meanwhile Lauren Stanton finds herself swept off her feet by Josh Lamont, and enters into a whirlwind affair with him against her better judgment. In a matter of days she loses her heart to the energetic, ambitious young flier. Josh asks her to marry him just before shipping out, but Lauren isn't sure if she has what it takes to become a 'navy wife'. She's already lost one man she adored. Lauren questions whether she has the courage to face the emotional highs and lows of Josh's career and the chance that she could lose him too. Both men ship out before any issues are resolved, and within days disaster strikes aboard the carrier. Steve is swept overboard while trying to avert a crippling shipboard explosion and Josh is forced to ditch his jet. Preparing for the worst and heartsick that the last words she and Steve exchanged were chilly, Grace and her children wait for news. As does Lauren and new mother Patricia Rivera.

Susan Wiggs tackles a timely theme in her latest novel -- the singular world of the military wife and her family. She's created an almost overly busy plot -- how can so much go wrong in the lives of one family in such a short time? But given the Navy lifestyle (where circumstances often change in the blink of an eye), she makes it work. A consummate artist when it comes to character development, Wiggs juggles her cast and various plot lines. After a bit of a slow start, she seamlessly integrates everything into the kind of emotional roller coaster of a story for which she's become renowned. The Ocean Between Us takes an intimate and very human look at what life is like for the men and women who choose to serve their country.

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