The Longest Night is a novel based on true events that took place at one of the country’s earliest nuclear reactors in Idaho Falls in 1961.
Paul and Nat Collier are a young couple who move to Idaho Falls in 1959 so Paul can take a job at the nuclear reactor. Paul is an Army Specialist and this is the job he’s been studying for. He struggles with his work as he discovers problems with the reactor that his superiors don’t want to report.
Their marriage struggles as well. Idaho Falls is also a very small town, mostly populated with military families also working at the reactor. Nat comes from San Diego and struggles to live the conservative small-town life that is expected of her.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a true story about the country’s first nuclear reactor accident. I really like books that look at true-life disasters in a fictional way. (Two of my favorites: In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden about the Johnstown Flood, and The Report, about a terrible accident in the London Tube during World War II.) I like books like this because they are about little-known true stories, and also because they look at the complicated events that lead up to the tragedy, and its impact on human lives. Like Titanic, it’s not so much a question of what’s going to happen, but why.
But what makes this book so good is the richly drawn relationship of Nat and Paul. Neither are perfect. Nat is impulsive and pretty selfish at times. Paul is the stronger character but he thinks he has to protect his wife rather than communicate with her. This leads to problems that nearly destroy their marriage.
He finally slept. Listening to his tranquilized breath she had the odd sensation that he was someone she had known too well and too long, a selfish brother, and not the person she wanted sharing her bed. The feeling passed in a heartbeat, shuddered away.
Reading this book reminded me a lot of the show Masters of Sex, which is also set in the early 60’s. It can’t have been easy to be a woman at this time, when there are still so many limitations and societal expectations. Nat isn’t terribly likeable at times but I still sympathized with her because she doesn’t have a lot of options. She’s expected to be a model parent, entertain the military families, and stand by her man. While I wasn’t around in the late 50’s, early 60’s, the book is really detailed and I always felt rooted in that time period.
This book is a really compelling read about an interesting factual event. I definitely recommend it.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Random House. The book will be released January 12, 2016.