My husband Miles dreamed of his death in the fall of 2005, nine months before he deployed to Iraq. He was twenty-three years old.
“A world traveler, Artis Henderson dreamed of living abroad after college and one day becoming a writer. Marrying a conservative Texan soldier and being an Army wife was never in her plan. Nor was the devastating helicopter crash that took his life soon after their marriage. On November 6, 2006, the Apache helicopter carrying Artis’s husband Miles crashed in Iraq, leaving her—in official military terms—an “unremarried widow.” She was twenty-six years old. In Unremarried Widow, Artis gracefully and fearlessly traces the arduous process of rebuilding her life after this loss, from the dark hours following the military notification to the first fumbling attempts at new love. She recounts the bond that led her and Miles to start a life together, even in the face of unexpected challenges, and offers a compassionate critique of the difficulties of military life. In one of the book’s most unexpected elements, Artis reveals how Miles’s death mirrored her own father’s—in a plane crash that she survived when she was five. In her journey through devastation and heartbreak, Artis is able to reach a new understanding with her widowed mother and together they find solace in their shared loss.”
I certainly wasn’t expecting anything great from Unremarried Widow, and it wasn’t, despite the bold claims on the back of the ARC, which I won via Goodreads. However, it was surprisingly good in its way, though nothing earth-shattering. I enjoyed the understated writing style and the way the author didn’t try to make the book into much more than her rather moving story. I mean, there’s plenty of reflection, but she’s not trying to say anything about Life or Death, instead focusing on a smaller scale. She connected both the death of her father in a plane accident and the death of her husband very well, alternating between the two, although I would have liked a bit more of that as the book progressed. The only real scene that talks mainly about her father is towards the beginning. There’s a lot of narration before Miles actually dies while in Iraq, and we know what’s coming, so that was actually used really effectively to build sympathy as this man is introduced and characterized, all the while knowing that he’s going to die, that in fact that death is the whole premise of the memoir. I actually found Miles to be kind of selfish at times, but the narrator clearly loved him very much. The thing was, she had to sacrifice a lot of what she wanted to do when she became his partner/wife, and that annoyed me.
I did enjoy the way that Artis Henderson used little anecdotes and snippets of life to recount her story and illustrate her points, rather than going more chronologically through the events of her life with Miles. As she puts it writing about something else, the book is composed of “just stories, brief peeks into the experience, like peering through a window…” Although that’s not what she was referring to, I thought it fit the narrative style pretty well. It was also quite straightforward, and I liked that aspect.
What I didn’t like was the vaguely religious aspect, the psychic that Artis goes to several times who seems to know everything about her life and what’s going to happen in it. There’s also this talk of spiritual connection or whatever, and I certainly don’t buy into that. Sorry. I have a feeling that here the narration isn’t quite accurate. Especially the letter from Miles before he died seemed somewhat constructed, although it’s certainly possible. At any rate, what Artis Henderson has crafted is pretty moving in its own way, although I certainly didn’t cry and cry as the editor says she did on the back of the ARC. It’s not really that kind of book; I was totally dry-eyed. Admittedly, I’m not the crying type in books, but I didn’t even feel the temptation to cry as I sometimes do.
There are some sexist elements to the book to, such as when Artis visits Mile’s parents’ ranch, where “he rode horses and worked the ranch with his father while I stayed inside with Terry.” Who gives Artis a bunch of recipes (sigh). That was just me being nit-picky though, because obviously there’s nothing wrong with baking.
Anyway, Unremarried Widow wasn’t great or anything, but it certainly was interesting enough, and provided some insights into the army way of life. It also shows you just what a waste the Iraq war was, costing the lives of countless young men like Miles Henderson. Anyway, the book doesn’t come out until early January, but keep your eyes out for it until then. I would recommend the library.
Rating: 3.5 stars.