Lily Burana's "I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles" presents itself as a spicy romp through the ins and outs of military wifedom.
In a certain sense, it delivers precisely that, giving us a solid serving of domestic life on base, from a gal who is a little off-base. Yet ultimately, it lacks comedic punch and ends up being overwhelmed by the "Other Battles" to which the subtitle refers.
Burana, an ex-stripper, Playboy model and hipster with an arrest record, falls for a straight-laced military man named Mike. This odd yet sweetly compatible couple rush to the altar because of the Iraq war, which leads to the author's odyssey behind the Green Curtain.
Burana's voice is often sharp and funny, honest and sexy. She freely admits to the sexual pull of a man in uniform: "There's pleasure in skinning a guy out of his camouflage -- those boots at the bedside and the clinkity-clink of dog tags hitting your chest."
It's fun to watch her try to squeeze her round-peg self into the very square hole that is regimental life. "Just folding a contour sheet with the guy," she writes in one scene, "held all the tension of a hostage negotiation. 'No,' he'd correct me. 'Fold it to the left.'
" 'What does it matter as long as it gets folded?'
"He'd start pulling. 'Now stretch it taut.'
" 'I am stretching it taut.'
" 'No, I know. But tauter.'
" 'Tauter isn't a word.' "
Almost as soon as the ink has dried on their marriage license, Mike gets deployed to Iraq for a year, and Burana has to fight her own war, with herself.
"Every day was a roller coaster of emotion," she recalls, "like PMS raised to an epic level. Of course it was more than some cyclical march of hormones; it was a state of shock, basically. As a stress response, I'd split myself into someone steely, and possibly a bit cracked."
Mike's deployment comprises only the first third of "I Love a Man in Uniform," but in many ways that's the least conflicted part of the book. In fact, it's when he returns from Iraq and the couple are safely and comfortably settled in military housing at West Point that the wheels come off the bus.
Isolated from the outspoken, alterna-world of which she has long been a part and forced into mismatched military company, Burana falls into a deep malaise.
"I was losing my voice," she laments. "I'd come of age in a community where Silence Equals Death, and now I lived in a milieu where I feared that saying the wrong thing might kill my husband's career -- and my social prospects. I felt myself melting away, succumbing to a prefabricated role in a place where bonds and traditions are marked as much by what you talk about as what you don't."
Not knowing how to behave, she becomes acutely self-conscious, fearing that everyone is judging her. She tries her best to keep her saucy past under wraps, but that's not so easy when you've already published a memoir, "Strip City," about your life behind the tip rail.
"It does sound funny . . ." Burana admits: " 'ex-stripper turned Army wife.' Kind of calls to mind a 'Private Benjamin'-era Goldie Hawn tripping past the cadet formation in platform heels or boozily peeling down to a camouflage thong in the officers' club. But I didn't hit West Point like some flighty fish out of water. All appropriate courtesies were rendered: I dressed sensibly, chatted amiably, and could be trusted to make it through a receiving line without offering the superintendent a lap dance."
Therein lies the disappointment of "I Love a Man in Uniform." One longs for a little more lap dancing, some Lucille Ball-esque gaffery, a little political friction -- just a flash of something naughty. But Burana obediently sucks it up. "I was taking the whole thing so seriously," she admits, "you'd think I was living for a grade."
Eventually, Burana succumbs to full metal despair and the marriage falls apart, sending her and Mike into therapy. Both are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; his related to combat, hers to childhood abuse.
What follows is a long, somewhat tortuous account of her treatment through therapy. But the language of recovery is so exhausted, the highs and lows so achingly familiar, that earnest accounts of trying to find the right antidepressant or fraught drives to the shrink's office fail to engage.
To write about recovery compellingly is what separates the officers from the grunts. While Burana is thoroughly competent, her prose lacks the right stuff to rank. Unfortunately, it ends up making what is otherwise a feisty, flossy read something of a drill.
Schickel is the author of "You're Not the Boss of Me: Adventures of a Modern Mom."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times