Author: Joseph Monninger
Title: Margaret from Maine
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Release date: December 24, 2012
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
The end of Maine Guardsman Sgt. Thomas Kennedy’s conscious life is ushered in by a flash of light on a plain in Afghanistan. While he languishes in a veterans’ hospital, Thomas’s devoted wife, Margaret, is raising their son on a dairy farm in rural Maine. She receives an invitation to Washington, DC, to meet the President of the United States as he signs a bill in support of wounded veterans with war veteran and West Point graduate Charlie King as her appointed escort. Charlie and Margaret’s shared circumstances inspire them to confide in one another. Suddenly, the pair creates a private world all their own, leaving the effects of war behind them. Margaret’s vows to her husband linger, raising a series of harrowing choices.
In this story we are given a woman living her day to day life on a dairy farm in Maine with her son Gordon and father-in-law Ben, keeping herself together and poised as ever. She’s a simple woman, not wanting for much, and considering which direction her life has taken, that says a lot about her character and strength. Unfortunately we never really get to “meet” her husband, Thomas, because he’s now just a shadow of the man he once was. He joined the Reserves, just like countless others do, to help support their life and possibly do something bigger. But, life had a different plan for him. He is now considered an injured veteran and with that label comes a very tricky and sometimes treacherous path to be on. Being married to an injured veteran with Tom’s specific condition, Margaret is invited to attend a bill signing in Washington D.C. that is meant to improve the lives and care options for these tattered soldiers. With that invitation came Charlie King, her assigned escort. It’s when Charlie and Margaret are together that we see just what she is missing in her life and I felt empathy for her. Yes she is a married woman, and those vows I do not take lightly, but I could also see her daily sacrifices slowly destroying her and I knew deep down that embracing her feelings and thoughts towards Charlie was the right choice for her. Charlie opens a door to a world Margaret knew little of and with that he also awakened something inside her she did not realize had been dormant. She is not just Margaret the dairy farmer/mother/caretaker…she is a woman with needs and yearns for the things taken from her before she had time to really enjoy them. There were times I found myself wishing there was a bit more internal conflict from each character considering certain situations that they were presented with but I was satisfied it wasn’t all sweetness and roses. The subjects dealt with between them deserve an honest light and in order to feel connected with the characters, I need to be able to feel their feelings but also place myself in their shoes. I struggled at times to do that but I never found myself bothered or annoyed with the situations completely.
Charlie is a very honorable and giving man to me and I never once considered him aggressive or opportunistic, which could have been easily done given his particular role in Margaret’s life. He showed true compassion and never failed to put everyone before himself which is a must in my yes column. He has ties to the Army as well as a unique connection to the situation Margaret finds herself in. I won’t spoil the story here, but I will say that the way Mr. Monninger connected Margaret and Charlie was thoughtful, respectful, and never once did I find myself questioning the purpose.
Margaret and Charlie embark on a journey together and the style of descriptive writing used here both enhanced it and overshadowed it at times. It took me a moment or two to really get into the story at the beginning and I did find myself wondering why certain elements of the background were included the way they were. By the time I reached the end of the book I realized that although they weren’t necessary to push the story forward, they were elements that added to my overall experience within the story.
“For the last three sunsets the prism had caught fire and it did not disappoint her this night. It sparkled bright white for just an instant, and she thought of Thomas, and she thought of good grace falling over the farm, and she hugged Gordon as the prism accepted light, bent it, and sent it on its way. She felt a lesson rested in its performance, that she, too, must accept what came toward her and pass it on its journey, but that seemed too grand an idea for the moment.”
Although Margaret and Charlie are mean to be modern day people they did speak and have thoughts that seemed slightly outdated but it did not detract too much from the story for me. If anything I considered them polite and proper, with maybe even a touch of southern style.
I was drawn to this book for one reason…Margaret is a military spouse. As one myself, I am always interested to see how authors handle this very different life we live. Which aspects are covered and which are barely touched out of fear of the unknown are typically the first thoughts I have when I read a synopsis that includes any mention of military married life. Most people have ideas of what military spouses face but I can say, without a doubt, their ideas don’t even scratch the surface. Regardless of the branch of service their spouses serve, they all have had to face the same trials and tribulations in some form or another. Long separations, the worry of unknown dangers, and carrying the responsibilities alone that most share with others are a constant presence in a military spouse’s daily life. There are sacrifices made by both the active duty member as well as his/her spouse but the focus and point of discussion is typically only on the soldier’s side of the spectrum. I’m not implying that a soldier’s sacrifice is in any way lessened because it’s their sacrifices that keep our country safe from harm, and that in itself is the biggest one a person can make. Even after these troops return safely to their families, there are even more obstacles and worries that must be overcome in order to find peace with what each has experienced during a deployment. It’s a very tricky situation to be in and their inner strengths are tested again and again long after the battle has been fought. War changes people regardless of the uniform or responsibilities held during it. It forces us to accept a reality that most would like to ignore and pushes our strength and resolve beyond every limit we felt existed.
This story highlights just a fraction of what our troops and their families face upon their return but it was done with tastefulness that I respect. I will say that Mr. Monninger handled the role of a military spouse with class and dignity, never once casting Margaret, or other military spouses, in a poor or weak manner and I certainly appreciated it. I enjoyed this book and felt that it ended appropriately leaving the imagination to do what it was designed to do. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to step into the delicate but muck covered shoes of a military spouse.
“She did, in fact, believe her husband Tom had acted bravely, but she did not see it in quite the same light as others wanted to see it…..She knew her husband—saw him bracketed by his son on one side, his father on the other—and she did not believe he would have acted courageously for a concept as vague as patriotism. No, it made perfect sense that he would raise his arms and try to protect a fellow soldier, but that had nothing to do with God and Country and flag waving.”
“Did you believe in the war, Charlie?” Margaret asked softly, her eyes studying the statue.
“Is there a difference really? I suppose there is. I’m cynical. After Thomas, I don’t have much faith in any of it. I imagine I did at one point. We were told so many lies and I believed them.”
“I think a lot of my friends still believe in the cause,” Charlie said, not sure of himself where he was heading with it, “because to go back on it now makes us…what? Murderers? Professional assassins? I’ve had trouble with it.”
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About the Author
Joseph Monninger is the author of Eternal on the Water and The World as We Know It, as well as several award-winning young-adult novels. A professor of English literature, he lives in New Hampshire. Visit him online at http://joemonninger.com
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