Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: January 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 pgs
Set in Idaho Falls during the early 1960s, The Longest Night tells an emotional and an unforgettable story of the challenges and struggles faced by a military family and how a nuclear accident changes their lives altogether.
Paul and Nat Collier knew each other when he was a twenty-year-old army lad while she a nineteen-year-old girl who loves nothing more than freedom and the ocean. Paul is quiet and reserved by nature and it is no wonder he was attracted by the cheerful and friendly Nat at first sight. They got married soon and have two lovely young daughters thereafter. Being an Army Specialist, Paul's latest assignment is to travel to a remote military town in Idaho Falls where he would help oversee one of the country’s first nuclear reactors, the CR-1 which needs manual labour and monitoring to keep it running. It is a risky and dangerous job, but the men at the testing station feel that as long as they always stay vigilant they would be fine.
Paul thinks so too until he discovers that the reactor is compromised while making his rounds one day. He brought this issue up with his superior, Master Sergeant Mitch Richards, and the answer he gets is a new core would be replaced soon and they shouldn't raise too much of an alarm as long as they don't raise the critical rod above four inches high; a safety protocol which every of the operators know by heart. But Paul doesn't think so, and to complicate matters Richards has behaved inappropriately towards Nat during a party and all these has made Paul very displeased with Richards.
Back at the testing station, the men continue to have problems with the stuck rod and Paul decided to confront Richards about the issue again but his anger got the better of him when Richards doesn't seem to acknowledge the danger of the faulty rod but displaying his authority and throwing off crude remarks. Paul saw red and a punch was landed on Richard's face. Whether if it is intentional or duty bound, Paul is then asked to deploy to Greenland to another station where they need experienced man like him. With a saddened heart, Paul leaves his family and it is also at that time when he learns that Nat is pregnant.
Filled with loneliness and restlessness, Nat found a new friend in a local cowboy, Esrom. She first met Esrom in a diner and the impression he gave her is he is easygoing, cheerful and kind-hearted. He is also the one who extended help when Nat's car broke down and also offered to lend her his car, since his uncle runs an car auto shop and he always have a spare. However, their friendship invites gossip although they didn't do anything immoral. Nat couldn't explain her fluttering heart whenever she sees Esrom, yet she knows she still loves Paul and her family, too.
When Paul returns to Idaho Falls, he gives Nat a cold shoulder after hearing Richard had babbled about Nat's close 'relationship' with Esrom. To clear his mind, he went off on a ride and saw several fire engines and ambulance on the highway towards the reactor and he knew something terrible must have happened. What follows is a tragedy and although Paul is officially off duty he still rushes inside the station, hoping to save his mates. Esrom is at the scene too, and by that time he has became a firefighter. What are the chances that they would all be saved from the radioactive and what it would take for Paul to save his own family?
The Longest Night is a great book filled with emotions and a few thought-provoking issues to ponder about. First of all, it examines the fragility and tenacity of marriage and most of all, the many emotions many military spouses will encounter leaving for a new place and settling in. Finding companionship could be a challenge, and even in today's world where we are more open-minded, we still question ourselves if a man and a woman could remain as platonic friends, let alone the time back then. Ms William's writing is great too and there was never a dull moment as I raced through this book, and did I mention that this is her debut novel? Plot and characterisation aside, what made this book another memorable read is the nuclear incident and that this is inspired by a true story of the only fatal nuclear accident occurred in America on January 3, 1961 (You can read more here and here.) Although this is a grim story, it still paints an inspiring portrait of humanity. Highly recommended.