How daring must we be, for how long must women fight for the recognition of equality? When will all men stand up and say, “yes, you matter, too, as much as we do”? Meg Wait Clayton, in a beautifully crafted novel, uses two brilliant heroines to make the point that not much has changed…but it could, if we are brave enough to stand up. Based on real female war correspondents reporting during World War II, Clayton delivers sharp social commentary, as relevant today as it was in 75 years ago, with fearless heroines proving that determination and good friends can get you just about anywhere.
As the scene unfolds at a hospital camp in Normandy, the readers are introduced to three journalists whom Clayton skillfully uses to portray a few common mindsets prevalence even today.
Olivia “Liv” Harper is a daring, headstrong, and extraordinary photographer, defying even her husbands wishes as she heads to France. Jane is a young journalist, writing for a Nashville newspaper owned by the family for whom her mother works as a maid. Marie is Jane’s fellow journalist and stiff on following the rules. She may not like them, but she will not break them, nor allow herself to think beyond them.
When Liv defies direct orders to remain at the camp, Jane, hungering to see and write about more than field hospitals, takes the risk and follows Liv. As they experience life at the front, Liv and Jane find themselves fighting against the obstacles that come with being females amidst the sea of male war correspondents, but also find allies along the way.
There is a great need in the world for men like Fletcher Roebuck and Hank Bend. In aiding Liv and Jane, from driving them to the front against orders, to keeping the women safe and distributing their stories and photos when they were denied access to the men’s press camp, Fletcher and Hank showed their support with something much more powerful than words. They acted.
Of course, they weren’t perfect, as revealed in Fletcher’s character: “…he certainly didn’t need the distraction of Charles blood Harper’s beautiful wife, no matter how talented she was…”, but his ultimate support of Liv and Jane, acting against the wishes of even his best friend Charles, showed that even engrained opinions can be pushed aside. We are not always obligated to hold onto all the beliefs of society.
Liv’s eventual death while photographing the front is a larger allegory of the sacrifices women have made and will be forced to make in order to obtain the same opportunities and prove themselves equal and capable. More than that, it’s a tribute to the women taking risks, defying norms and doing something that they love, with or without society’s approval.
In Jane’s decision to accompany Liv to the front, she represents those who want something badly and only need a push, people fearless like Liv to pave the way and show us how to live. Sometimes all we need is a friendly face and an outstretched hand, knowing that we’re supported and not alone.
So what should we women be doing? Reading about what’s happening, after its happened? No. Rather, we should look to Liv’s daring philosophy to be in the trenches of our lives: “Photos of the parachute sermon itself, the gunfire, the bicycle ride—those are the photos I ought to be taking. Not photographs of a woman in a safely liberated French town recalling them.” We need to be in the thick of it, not picking up the pieces.
Right now, many of us are Marie, discontented with the confines of society, but unwilling or unable to fight against the system. We find ourselves “couch potato activists,” unable to do more than support the Livs from behind a screen.
Not all of us will be Liv, but we can be Jane. Clayton is right. We need to acknowledge the risk, but take the chance and follow. Otherwise, we could be missing out on the greatest adventure of our lives. Liv and Jane were living in a changing world, and it’s still evolving now. Where will it take us?