The Sound of Caissons
Author: Suzanne Hadfield Semsch
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 582 pages
Suzanne Hadfield Semsch’s The Sound of the Caissons is a sweeping work of historical fiction in the vein of a James Michener or Herman Wouk novel. It’s a multigenerational story that blends tragedy and triumph, duty and disappointment.
At the heart of the book is Julia Crockett, a third generation military child. Readers first meet Julia as a 6-year-old in Fort Sill. She’s a Tom Boy more interested in riding horses and playing with toy soldiers than party dresses and tea parties. Julia aspires to a life in the United States Army, but not on the arm of a general. Rather Julia wants to become a general.
As a young girl Julia surrounds herself with posters and pictures of soldiers, plays with toy soldiers and reads military history. But she’s ahead of her time – it’s nearly 50 years before women will serve in the military in the way she envisions. Thus, Julia’s wish gives rise to the tension at the core of this book: “You did what was expected of you, which frequently meant personal sacrifice.”
When World War Two erupts Julia decides to join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, WAAC. Her father forbids her from joining. So Julia pursues power and standing through marriage. She pushes and prods her husband and her four children. She lives vicariously through them. Hers is a dream deferred.
The Sound of Caissons takes readers through the Great Depression, World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Along the way readers not only “live” with the Crockett family, but also with their many acquaintances and friends.
In Julia Semsch creates a character who is deeply human; she is flawed and that makes her real. Julia is abrasive, loving, cold, determined and passionate. Readers watch her develop from Army Brat to military wife and mother.
The book shows the workings of the US Army for the first three-quarters of the 20th century detailing social customs and traditions of the officer world. Throughout the novel readers see the politics and hierarchy at work on a military base. They learn how this cloistered community works.
Semsch has written nonfiction articles for historical magazines and in The Sound of Caissons she draws upon her own experience as daughter and wife of career Army officers. This gives authenticity to the book.
Reviewed by: Cathryn J. Prince (2013)