From Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Gone Girl, contemporary marriage has frequently been subject to scathing literary portrayals. Andria Williams, however, may well be the first to set marital tribulations against the backdrop of a (literal) nuclear meltdown. Given this, ahem, explosive premise, it’s interesting to note that Williams’ debut eschews the extremities favored by the likes of Edward Albee or Gillian Flynn. The Longest Night is a closely observed study with its feet planted firmly in domestic realism. This is not to imply that Williams shies away from harsh truths. The subtlety she employs makes the novel’s twists and turns—and especially its conclusion—all the more affecting, even devastating.
The novel opens with a brief prologue set in 1961, which finds Paul Collier, an operator for a small nuclear reactor, in a panic as the reactor melts down. Williams then takes us back to 1959, introducing Paul’s wife, Nat, and their two young daughters. Paul and Nat are new to Idaho Falls, and the latter is thrust into the demands of being a military wife and a young mother. Then there are the Colliers’ neighbors, a toxic couple who offer a fearful glimpse into marital days yet to come, and who set in motion the figurative and literal explosions which propel The Longest Night.
Williams—herself the wife of an active-duty naval officer who has been stationed all over the U.S.—captures the nomadic nature of military life well, and she treats her flawed characters with humanity and dignity. Ultimately, The Longest Night is not only a revealing story of a community gripped by Cold War paranoia, but also an unsettling portrait of commitment and desire.