Friday, April 30, 2010

bookclubbing in April (1 of 2)

Under the Sabers by Tanya Biank

Subtitled "The Unwritten Code of Army Wives", Under the Sabers looks at the culture of Army spouses by focusing specifically on the lives of four women whose husbands are stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Author Tanya Biank is a journalist and Army brat who reveals only at the end of the book that she too is an Army wife. Under the Sabers was inspired by a rash of spousal murders involving individuals stationed at Fort Bragg. Those murders made Biank want to look more closely at the relationships between military men and their wives (was there something inherent in army life that could have led to the murders?). While Under the Sabers is not about the murders, its action takes place during that same time period and Biank does incorporate them into the book (one of the main characters is one of the murder victims and the other murders are mentioned when they occur).

They way Biank writes about the characters (characters probably isn't the best word as the individuals whose lives are chronicled in Under the Sabers are real, live people, but it'll do) makes it very easy for readers to become invested in them (I got teary-eyed when one of the husbands died in action even though I knew it was coming). That being said, it's hard to tell how true-to-life the depictions are. That Biank treats the murdered woman with the same level of detail as the other women despite never having talked to her makes one wonder just how much of what Biank wrote is "real". Also how much were the stories sanitized in order to get buy-in from the individual women (whose real names are used in the book)?

Only one member of the group had seen the Lifetime television show inspired by the book (Army Wives) and only after reading Under the Sabers. She reported that the characters seemed to be inspired by the individuals in the books, but that in the tv show they are all friends.

During our discussion we found ourselves straying from the book and talking more generally about military life and culture as experienced by us or those close to us. The one part of the book that we dwelt on the most was the death of Gary Shane (son of one of the four women). We understood that the death itself was inexplicable, but we were curious about what Biank wasn't saying about Gary Shane's family.

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