The Longest Night

What was the worst nuclear accident in the United States? Three Mile Island in 1979, right? Wrong. Nobody died when that reactor nearly melted down, whereas an explosion at an experimental reactor in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Jan. 3, 1961, killed three technicians and gave several others potentially fatal doses of radiation. This fine debut novel appropriates that event as a way to portray a group of military families brought together at the dawn of the nuclear age. The author, herself the wife of a naval officer, subtly explores the pressures put on military families, especially—as in this case—when it becomes apparent that they are in mortal danger. In The Longest Night, the officers in charge refuse to acknowledge the danger lurking in the troubled reactor, caring more about their retirement benefits than the safety of their underlings. Williams’ description of the explosion and its horrific lethality is more than enough to make one glad that the nuclear age is ending.