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The Wives: A Memoir

Review

The Wives: A Memoir

In THE WIVES, a searing and unflinching memoir, Simone Gorrindo chronicles the moment her marriage changed forever and how it then grew and reformed to accommodate the third party her husband invited into it: the Army.

“Sometimes I think about joining the military,” said Andrew one wintry day in 2007 when he was 24 and his girlfriend was 23. The young couple had just moved in together in Annapolis, where Andrew was attending a small liberal arts college studying the classics. Their relationship felt fated from the start, and Gorrindo notes that she felt comfortable discussing even uncomfortable topics like politics with her husband early on. This is why she was so confused by his admission.

Raised in the same town in California, both were liberal Democrats, supportive of women, LGBTQ communities and diversity, and equally opposed to the War in Iraq. “I would leave you,” Simone is quick to reply. But after years of indecision and months of couples’ counseling, the opposite is revealed to be true. Simone finds herself in Columbus, Georgia, an army wife married not just to the love of her life, but to a storied and notoriously secretive institution.

"Whether you’re an army brat yourself or a staunch pacifist, or if your politics are grayer and murkier, THE WIVES is more than worth the read. Galvanizing, discomforting and surprisingly celebratory, it’s a powerful, candid achievement that should be required reading for all citizens."

Although Simone and her husband do not live on base, their community is full of other young couples like them, save for a few notable differences. Most of the other men and women committing to the life are conservative, religious and from smaller, less suburban towns. Few of the women have ever worked professional jobs, and with Simone’s background as a digital editor working out of New York City, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Add to that the caste system that, while allegedly phased out of the army, continues to have a stronghold on the relationships between the wives of soldiers. Accustomed to drink-fueled nights ending in bodegas at 3am or smoke-filled afternoons outside of cafes, Simone immediately finds the sudden change in social cues and etiquette disarming.

Fortunately, the small house that she and her husband rent lies right across the street from another young couple, Rachel and Dan. Rachel, a sharp-witted and tidy June Cleaver type, is a devout Christian whose pro-life stance is plastered across her social media. Although she seems friendly and sweet, Simone cannot help but wonder how the two will ever become friends. With her husband off doing trainings for the Army’s Special Operations unit, she has few other options. But if missing your husband is one thing, replacing your best friend --- the person you come to with minor complaints and bighearted dreams --- with a virtual stranger is another.

Gorrindo is unflinching in her portrayal of the first few weeks of training for Andrew’s “rapidly deployable combat unit,” and the picture isn’t always pretty or even sensical. She struggles first and foremost with the notion of her husband, intense but sweet and deeply philosophical, being trained not to defend but to kill, and even more so with his willingness to do it all. Although Gorrindo is quick to note her already high tolerance for loneliness (this is not the first time the couple has been long-distance), it is the unanswerable questions that consume her: Can I support my husband in a war whose purpose seems more gray than black and white? Can I reconcile his training with the man I love(d)? And, above all, will the sacrifice ever be worth it?

But THE WIVES is not some politically charged meditation on the implications of war, nor a judgment of those who participate in or support it. Instead, it’s about the wives left behind --- by their husbands, their communities and, perhaps most inconceivably, the military. Sure, there are support groups and phone chains, pamphlets and newsletters, but these writings are at once suffocatingly intimate and wildly impersonal. The absurdity of their necessity is only amplified by directives to husbands like “Don’t beat your wife while on leave” and sayings like “If the army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.”

Navigating these instructions --- and the social hierarchies of the wives themselves, each bound by their husband’s rank and standing --- is like learning a new language and culture. Despite whatever differences the women had before arriving in Columbus, they need to find ways to like and support one another, ensuring that they each feel comfortable enough to begin the real work: supporting their husbands on their few precious hours home.

If Gorrindo is unflinching in her portrayal of army life, she is even more sharp-eyed and courageous in her portrayal of her marriage. As Andrew rises in rank and is molded by the culture of the army, she finds that the man she once chose to share everything with --- her childhood traumas, her dreams --- can no longer reciprocate. There are no words for the horrors he is trained to adapt to, no single meeting point where army life ever converges with civilian life, and every time Simone tries to bridge the gap, the chasm only grows wider. All the while, she and her peers are constantly reminded that the men are the ones who need them. Even when they feel ignored, unmoored and bored, they must remain a safe landing space for their soldiers.

Old-fashioned and chauvinistic, you may say, and Gorrindo herself certainly bristles at some of the 1950s-era speak. But it is only when she is stripped of all her comforts that she truly reckons with what she has gained: a rich, vibrant community of wives bound by their shared, often involuntary experience and the ways they have come together because of it. This realization is bolstered by another. At the heart of military wife life, there’s a surprisingly feminist, matriarchal undercurrent. The military apparently is one of the only pockets of society where being a mother doesn’t make you invisible, it makes you matter. As she grapples with her own feelings about motherhood, Simone watches her marriage change shape, collapse in on itself, and rise from its own ashes. In the end, it is not just her own grit, the military staff or even her husband’s love that sustains her. It’s the wives.

The uniqueness of Gorrindo’s position would make THE WIVES an unforgettable memoir on its own, but what elevates the book and sets it apart is her breathtakingly beautiful and lucid prose. She has a razor-sharp precision when it comes to picking which moments and experiences to expand upon, and which to revisit with a more mature perspective. She is never judgmental --- of her younger self, her changing husband, or the military and the people she meets there --- but she is also unafraid to ask the hard questions and is even braver to put them on the page.

Whether you’re an army brat yourself or a staunch pacifist, or if your politics are grayer and murkier, THE WIVES is more than worth the read. Galvanizing, discomforting and surprisingly celebratory, it’s a powerful, candid achievement that should be required reading for all citizens.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on April 19, 2024

The Wives: A Memoir
by Simone Gorrindo

  • Publication Date: April 9, 2024
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
  • ISBN-10: 1982178493
  • ISBN-13: 9781982178499