There are stories of war we are used to seeing: the soldier as action hero or the wounded warrior returning home. Then there are the war stories that are not so familiar, of the families left behind.
Artis Henderson’s “Un-Remarried Widow” is one such story, an exquisitely sensitive portrait of a new bride whose marriage is cut short when her husband is killed in the Iraq War.
Love and loss in time of war is a story shared by thousands of wives and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters, who have lost a loved one in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But those stories seldom get told beyond the immediate family and a few trusted friends.
In the hands of Henderson, her own tragedy is redeemed by a beautifully written story that is both deeply personal and powerfully universal.
The Stevensons’ way was rarely easy. Robert Louis battled with both his writing and his health, barely escaping death from maladies related to weak lungs. Money was always a problem, even after Louis’ books began selling. Fanny suffered from bouts of what sound like migraines and bipolar disorder. She envied Louis’ literary success, and she resented his friends who, she believed (with some cause), treated her as an outsider.
Horan’s prose is gorgeous enough to keep a reader transfixed, even if the story itself weren’t so compelling. I kept re-reading passages just to savor the exquisite wordplay. Even the smallest characters, including the nonhuman ones, rate full range of personality.
Toward the end, as Louis struggles with what would become his masterpiece, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” it’s intriguing to draw comparisons between his “duality of man” theme and the polarities of his and Fanny’s relationship. She had brave physicality and an oft-troubled mind; he was physically weak but always mentally acute. Together, they were brilliance personified.