The Longest Night

Written by Andria Williams
Review by Douglas Kemp

The only fatal nuclear accident in the United States occurred in Idaho Falls in 1961. With the nuclear clock ticking in the background, The Longest Night explores what happens to a flawed marriage in a time of crisis. Will it break or can it heal?

In 1959, Army Specialist Paul Collier arrives in Idaho Falls with his wife, Natalie, and two toddlers; this is their third assignment as a military family and a career move for Paul, an expert in nuclear reactors. Paul sees problems with his reactor, but his teammates won’t listen. When no one seems concerned with nuclear safety on base, least of all his sergeant, Paul, a reticent man, keeps his worries to himself.

Paul’s failure to talk to her frustrates and angers Natalie. She tries to be a good military wife (like the sergeant’s sophisticated spouse), but she lacks the confidence to mingle and make friends. Idaho winters are hard, and Nat, a Californian, is bored and lonely when Esrom, an attractive cowboy, comes into her life. Paul, who is concerned about his marriage and his job, is suddenly sent to the Arctic on temporary duty. Someone wants him out of the way, but if there’s trouble with a reactor, his family will be alone. Frantic with worry, Paul risks his marriage by calling on the only person he trusts to keep Natalie and their children safe: Esrom.

The Longest Night is a familiar story in outline only; the rest is fiction. Nevertheless, Paul and Natalie – once attracted by differences that now drive them apart – seem touchingly real. The Longest Night is a riveting 20th-century love story. Highly recommended.