Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington is an interesting work of contemporary fiction. The story centers around our protagonist, 15 year old Alice Bliss. Her normal teenage world is turned upside-down when her beloved father joins the army and is sent on tour in Iraq. The Bliss women, now left at home on their own, must struggle to find a way to fill the hole that Matt has left behind. Tensions rise between family members, especially when a knock at the door informs them that Matt is now MIA and his chances of being found alive are slim. When an 18 month deployment stretches into forever, how do you learn to cope with suffocating absence?
It’s strange to think that right now we are living within a piece of American history. The Iraq War. Much debated, much reviled, we are in the middle pages of a not-too-distant textbook. The reality of the situation is that Alice’s world is shared by many. Personally, I can rattle off a couple dozen friends who have enlisted in the military within the last few years. Rather than college, the Air Force or the Marines is now an acceptable after-high school career. We all know someone who is being missed. And that’s what struck me with Alice Bliss.
I appreciated this book for what it was. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of how just “being” is difficult when a loved one is in harm’s way. The day to day routine, just “going on” becomes a struggle. It also demonstrated how one family member can be the glue that holds everyone together, as Matt was. Once he left, his wife and two daughters floated away from each other only to orbit around him and his memory. His absence was so central and profound to the story that it became a character of its own. It made my heart ache for his family members, just as it has ached for real friends of mine.
Alice Bliss is a great story, especially since it is such a slice out of military family life. I feel that oftentimes the troops are celebrated for their strength and courage, but it’s the people they have left behind who must possess a certain strength of character in order to keep going. When you love someone in the military, you are living in two worlds–your world and the (very dangerous and scary) world you have imagined your loved one in.
That takes a courage all of it’s own.
3.5 purple hearts of 5