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Elizabeth O'Reilly, the wife of a career Marine Corps officer and mother of four children (with one on the way), finds herself at odds with just about everything in her life. Having seen her husband off to Vietnam, she's left to contend with her own ...
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Elizabeth O'Reilly, the wife of a career Marine Corps officer and mother of four children (with one on the way), finds herself at odds with just about everything in her life. Having seen her husband off to Vietnam, she's left to contend with her own desires and yearnings —trying to care for her children while longing to pick up the theater career she abandoned for the demands of motherhood.
Liz finds solace in a friendship with Father Ezekiel Germaine, a war veteran and eccentric priest with an appreciation for irony, and in the wary camaraderie of Betty Simmons, another military housewife, whose cocktails help Liz take the edge off.
While Liz struggles with the vicissitudes of life on the home front, her husband, Captain Michael O'Reilly, commands an infantry company in Vietnam. Mike has no illusions about the glamour and glory of war; he is a man who understands the meaning of fighting for his country and has made his peace with it for better and for worse.
In the end, though, it is Lizzie's war. And it is Liz O'Reilly, a complex woman wrestling with conflicting commitments, loyalties, and sympathies, who is the heart of the novel. Beginning with the Detroit riots in the summer of 1967 and ending on Labor Day weekend, 1968, Lizzie's War is a vivid chronology of that watershed time in America intertwined with the personal histories of the O'Reilly family. Portraying the ravages of war as well as the dark humor of a soldier navigating life in the trenches, the clash of a mother's everyday duties with her unspoken desires, and the age-old conflict between God and humanity, Lizzie's War is an unforgettable family epic. What also emerges is a genuine love story. Liz O'Reilly and her unexpected war will linger long after the last page is turned.
Detroit was burning. The midsummer sun that had made the Ohio turnpikes the usual ordeal seemed suddenly uncertain, caught in the sludge of a smoky sky like a pale orange dime stamped into hot blacktop. In the chastened light, her hometown was ominously unfamiliar. Even the freeway signs seemed ambiguous, inexact translations from the language of her childhood. Elizabeth O'Reilly was disoriented -- she refused to use the word lost -- and she was running out of gas.
There were almost no other vehicles on the road, not even cabs and buses. That was the most unnerving thing of all. She always made these visits to her parents braced for traffic, the proud clogged streets of the Motor City, the mass of good American steel in motion. She recalled glimpsing a newspaper headline the day before, something about riots, but she hadn't taken the news seriously. Detroit was ever volatile, and the newspapers loved to blow a few broken windows up into chaos in the streets. She'd been too busy seeing her husband off to Vietnam to fret about such things.
In the seat beside her, Liz's eight-year-old daughter, Katherine, fiddled with the radio, looking for the Beatles. Since the release of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June, Kathie and her friends had been in an ecstasy of grief, sobbing through a series of candlelit pajama parties over the death of Paul, which was obvious from the rose he was holding on the album cover. Liz found all the preadolescent intensity a little much. But Kathie was susceptible to extremes of poignancy. At Dulles Airport the previous Wednesday, she'd clung to her father and wailed. She was sure that he was going away to die, like Paul.Mike, stiff in his dress greens and self-conscious in public, his beautiful black hair buzzed close to his skull by some fanatic Marine barber, patted her with a pained air and told her it was no big deal, it was just his job and he'd be home soon. He was uncomfortable with emotional extravagance -- with any emotion at all, really, Liz thought ruefully. She knew her husband just wanted to get off to his war without a lot of fuss, and she'd tried to rein Kathie in a bit. But her heart wasn't in it; she'd even felt a surreptitious gratitude for the frankness of her daughter's horror. Kathie was wailing for all of them. She was just prepared to be louder about it.
Liz heard something that sounded like gunfire close by. Or maybe a backfire. Surely a backfire, she told herself. She could see no flames, but the smoke was denser now, sifting in sinister threads across the freeway. As Kathie continued to wade through the radio's stations, Liz caught a snatch of feverish news coverage -- "... in a twelve-block area east of Twelfth Street ..." -- but her daughter skipped past it blithely. Liz almost told her to go back, then decided not to press the issue. There was no sense getting everyone all worked up.
In the back of the Fairlane station wagon, her other three children occupied themselves with the quiet ease of seasoned travelers. Between the moves imposed by the Marine Corps every couple years and frequent trips to their scattered relatives, they'd spent a lot of their childhoods in cars. Deborah, the youngest at five years old, was reading An Otter's Tale for perhaps the fiftieth time, oblivious to the mayhem nearby, her china blue eyes and perfect round face composed. She had already finished the book once this trip, somewhere on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and had turned back to the first page and started over immediately. As Liz watched her now in the rearview mirror, a siren began to scream in the burning inner city to their right. Her younger daughter turned a page. She had an air of serenity, like a child in a dream.
Beside Deb-Deb, Angus, seven, pressed his face against the window on the freeway side of the car. He had been counting license plates since Maryland and was up to thirty-seven states. The paucity of traf- fic was the only effect of Detroit's upheaval that he seemed to have noticed so far. Behind him, in the station wagon's rear well, Danny, the oldest at ten years old, had put his biography of Stonewall Jackson aside and turned toward the smoke, his brow wrinkled just like his father's would have been, more in alertness than in fear. He met Liz's gaze briefly in the rearview mirror, his glance both sober and excited, and she felt the weird camaraderie she had felt with him almost from the moment he was born, the sense of someone home behind those blue-gray eyes. It was oddly comforting. And, sometimes, scary.
The children didn't know it yet, but there was a fifth passenger. Liz was six weeks pregnant. It had been a catastrophe of sorts, a classic Catholic mistake. The last thing she wanted. But there it was. She could feel the new life inside her as a hotter place, a burning spot, as if she had swallowed a live coal. And as a weight, tilting some inner scale toward helpless rage. It wasn't something she wanted to feel. She had more than enough guilt and ambivalence with the children already born.
The maddening static gave way abruptly to music. Kathie had fi- nally found a station to her satisfaction.
What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
"I see a tank!" Angus exclaimed.
"There aren't any tanks in Detroit," Liz said firmly, wondering if it was true.
"That's an APC," Danny offered from the back of the car.
"Wow!" Angus twisted in his seat to get a better look."Hey, look at all that smoke!"Lizzie's War