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Lizzie's War    by Tim Farrington order for
Lizzie's War
by Tim Farrington
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lizzie is married to Marine Captain Mike O'Reilly, who's just shipped out to Vietnam as the novel opens in July 1967. He leaves his wife to cope with four young children (Danny, Kathie, Angus, and Deborah) with another, unexpectedly, on the way. Lizzie never expected to end up a Marine Corps wife, but was well on the way to an acting career when she met Mike in college and her life changed direction.

The story alternates between Mike's experiences in Vietnam - where 'Combat made a kind of family as real and deep as anything he had ever known' - and Lizzie's on the home front. We share Mike's wry (he has a 'subversive sense of humor'), determinedly cheerful letters that gloss over the horrors, and emphasize his love for his wife and their 'fearsome foursome'. I sympathized with Lizzie's feelings about a career on hold and with her hatred of constant laundry that 'felt like snow throughout the house in every season, dumped by the constant storm of children.' She comes across as a strong person and a creative, loving, tolerant mother.

Early in the story, Mike is shocked, while processing the war casualty seabags in Okinawa, to learn that his best friend, Larry Petroski, was killed in action. The families had been close since the men met in Basic School. We see Lizzie visit Larry's wife Maria, share her grief, and wonder how she would cope herself - she's praying for Mike 'to just dodge the god-damned bullet of history and get himself back in one piece'. Lizzie's war continues with a small campaign against racism that's almost too easily won, and escalates later in the novel when she's ambushed by the dreaded visit from two military men, and later must face family tragedy on her own.

Someone who grows important to the O'Reilly family in the father's absence is Father Zeke Germaine, a Catholic priest who served in the military (flashbacks reveal the horror of experiences that have haunted him since) and whose 'terrors now were banality and despair'. He becomes a father figure to the children and develops a special, unusual relationship with Lizzie, who shares her growing dissatisfaction with Mike's unreal letters that tell 'the lie that everything was fine.' The book ends a year and a half after it began, when Lizzie looks back on 'a grueling time that seemed it would never pass or an instant as fleeting as a dream.'

In Lizzie's War, Tim Farrington gives us an insightful, compelling, poignant novel. He portrays how war is not only fought by the men and women in uniform, but by their families and loved ones, who must strive to keep home fires burning and deal with their own feelings about an absence in their lives that feels interminable.

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