Narrator: Maggi-Meg Reed
Published by Macmillan Audio on 1/31/13
After twelve years of marriage, Michael and Joleen Zarkades are watching it crumble from beneath their feet. Michael is a criminal defense attorney whose work is keeping him away from home more and more and Joleen serves in the National Guard as a helicopter pilot after having spent fourteen years in the Army. Ideologically, Michael has never understood Joleen’s military service and has held himself apart from that aspect of her life. Joleen grew up seeking attention and affection from parents who never provided it. When she was orphaned at the age of seventeen, she joined the army and and shaped herself into a woman who was determined to control her own happiness through force of will. When Joleen’s National Guard unit is deployed to Iraq, she ships out knowing she’s leaving behind her two girls, ages four and thirteen, who need her more than ever and a husband who just told her he no longer loves her. As Michael’s relationship with his daughters begins to grow, he’s forced to take a hard look at his marriage and his feelings for his wife. When word arrives that Joleen’s helicopter was shot down, the family is thrown into complete disarray as the most difficult part of their journey begins.
Before I talk about the audiobook, I have a few general comments:
I requested this audiobook through AudiobookJukebox.com’s Solid Gold Reviewer program in return for an honest review and Macmillan was kind enough to send it to me. If you have an interest in reviewing audiobooks, this program is a good way to give it a try. I didn’t realize it was an abridged copy when I requested it and this is my first listen to an abridged audiobook. It’s worth keeping that in mind when I talk about the flow of the story.
This was an uncommonly emotional book for me. In fact, emotion is almost all that comes to mind as I write this review. There are a lot of serious issues that play out: the slow dissolution of a marriage, parent/child relationships, war and the effect of it on both the soldier who fights it and the family who waits for her return, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the state of after-care for returning veterans, death and loss… I’m going to offer a quote from a piece of dialogue spoken by Michael’s mother, Mila, as a single sentence summary: “We all knew it would be hard to have you gone. But no one told us how hard it would be when you came back.” Part of what made this book so evocative and thought-provoking is that Michael, Joleen, and their family have an “everyman” quality about them. Whether it’s something the reader is likely to relate to – like the break-down of a marriage – or something I hope you have no experience with – like PTSD – the emotions evoked in this audiobook are intense because the listener can see it happening to themselves or anyone they know. My heart ached as I watched the very controlled Jolene, who firmly believes it’s your mindset that determines your happiness, lose any sort of control over her life due to the PTSD. As she recognized that she had a problem and still tried to handle it on her own with her “army of one” mindset, the effect it had on her relationship with her daughters when that didn’t work was heart-breaking.
Michael’s gradual evolution from a man whose connection to his wife is slipping away to a man who is ready to be the supportive husband his wife is in desperate need of was realistic but spurred by one of those “only in a book” coincidences that had him defending a soldier who suffered from PTSD and was accused of murdering his wife. Descriptions of the physical surroundings weren’t as full as I would have liked and there were some repetitive elements but, and I’m going to be repetitious here myself, the emotional content more than filled that void for me. I was content with the way the story wrapped up and was pleased with the mixed bag of resolutions for the various plot points.
Maggi-Meg Reed brings a breathless drama to the story that worked for me in some scenes but as the book progressed, it wore on me, as did the amount of dialogue that was performed as if the speaker was gritting their teeth. The subject matter was grim and tense enough at times and for me, a subtler performance would have been more effective at maintaining my tension. As it was, I was becoming a bit worn out by the last 1/3 of the audiobook and was glad it was abridged. On the flip side, the abridgement may very well have been responsible for condensing the story to the most dramatic moments without the needed intervals of calm. The only other factor that I took issue with was pitch. In audiobooks, I struggle to stay in the story when a male voice is higher in pitch than most of the female voices (which happened with the therapist Michael hired for his case) and when children’s voices are lower than adults (which happened with Joleen’s thirteen year-old, Betsy) but the emotions came through clearly and I particularly enjoyed Mila’s Greek accent.