A family epic laced with authenticity, wit and unforgettable characters. Liz O'Reilly has a husband in Vietnam, 4 kids under the age of 12 (and one on the way), and a burgeoning crush on the family priest. An unconventional love story.
It's Summer 1967 and Mike O'Reilly's just shipped out to Vietnam. Liz O'Reilly is trying to keep it all together for their four kids – 6 year old Deb–Deb (who believes she is an otter), 8 year old Angus, Kathie, (who at age 9 helps to integrate the local Blue Bird troop with her best friend Temperance), and 11 year old Danny – the spitting image of Mike. While Mike is off fighting "his" war, Liz struggles with her own desires and yearnings – to pick up the theatre career she abandoned when Danny was born, to care for the four children she loves fiercely yet also occasionally resents, to leave the backdoor unlocked so she always has an escape route. While set during the conflict in Vietnam, Farrington's novel captures the other side of any war – that of the war at home and the careening emotions of the spouses and families left behind.
|File size:||568 KB|
About the Author
Tim Farrington is the author of Lizzie's War, The Monk Downstairs,—a New York Times Notable Book—and The Monk Upstairs, as well as the critically acclaimed novels The California Book of the Dead and Blues for Hannah.
Read an Excerpt
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
A Novel. Copyright © by Tim Farrington. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“A touching love story....Lizzie is smart, funny, acerbic, and lovable. Her story shot straight to my heart.”
“This is a work of deep humanity; its poetry and humor are added bonuses.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read Lizzie's War a few years back now and thought I'd reviewed it then, but I guess I didn't. It is perhaps one of the few novels about the Vietnam War that shows both sides of a marriage affected by the war. Lizzie was the wife of a Marine officer deployed to Vietnam and the narrative has a kind of variable viewpoint. First you see what the husband is doing and enduring and then what the wife is doing and enduring. Their letters play a big role too, but not because of what they say, but rather what they don't say. You'll also see how the war and the split family affects the children. I can't remember for sure now, but I think there were four or five kids and Mom Lizzie was pregnant again. And oh yeah, they were Catholics, so her faith was being sorely tested with this pregnancy, which she was facing alone for the most part. She sought advice from the local priest who was quite taken with Lizzie. It gets a bit complicated in that area actually. Farrington's dad was a Marine in Vietnam, and he based much of his novel on stories he'd heard growing up from his father's marine friends. If there is an autobiographical element here it probably would lie in the portrayal of the 12-13 year-old son, an altar boy who tries his best to be "the man of the family" while wrestling with all the normal pangs of sexual awakening and growing up. Suffice it to say that this is a very moving and eloquently told story of how military families all face their own kinds of personal hell, whether in combat or on the homefront. If you like a good story, then I guarantee you'll like Lizzie's War.
A great story about the Vietnam War from the wife of a marine captain leading an assault against the North Vietnames government. She is the mother of 4 young ones and one on the way, Catholic, and living within a Virginia Beach community of other Vietnam war "wives and families". I especially liked the wives talking about when "the 2 marines knock at your front door. Highly recommend.
This look at a wife and mother waiting for her husband to come home from Vietnam has moments that will wrench your heart and moments that will make you laugh. The letters between husband and wife provide an authentic feel to the war time drama. I enjoyed this so much that I sought out other Tim Farrington books.
I found this book a great read from cover to cover. I am an avid reader of Vietnam War material and this book was a refreshing look from a wife's perspective keeping the homefront going and at the same time being the anchor for her husband in Vietnam.
I kept comparing Vietnam in the book with the current situation in Iraq. If most military men are like the husband, they need their heads examined. I felt much more compassion for the priest whom the author dropped too quickly.