Review: Tracy Crow looks back with clarity on career, being a woman Marine in memoir 'Eyes Right'

Published March 31, 2012

Eyes Right: Confessions From a Woman Marine is a deeply contemplative memoir tracing author Tracy Crow's service in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1977 to 1987.

Crow, an assistant professor of creative writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, published a novel last year under the pen name Carver Greene. An Unlawful Order is the first in a planned series featuring a protagonist who is a female military officer. Eyes Right is her first nonfiction book.

The focus of Crow's memoir is her unlikely trajectory from errant teenager eager to escape her Appalachian Virginia childhood to driven military journalist and decorated Marine Corps officer. At the height of her career, still in her twenties, Crow was a wife, a mother and a weapons-qualified Marine who was as at home handling an M-16 as she was interviewing the secretary of the U.S. Navy.

Crow's narrative takes place during a great transition in terms of the number of women on active duty — 100,000 women were serving in the military the summer Crow enlisted; that number had doubled by the time she left the Marines. The book is an intimate glimpse of an era in which women in the military faced myriad obstacles, including dismissive sexism and sexual harassment on the job.

Still a teenager when she enlisted, Crow found a true home in the Marine Corps. While her marriage to a fellow officer floundered and she faced the constant dilemma of the pull of motherhood versus career, she clearly embraced the military culture and thrived as much on the exhilarating risk-taking as on the rewards and recognition she earned through work and dedication. She followed the rules and rose rapidly through the ranks — until she broke the rules, which led to the threat of a career-ending court-martial.

What's refreshing about this memoir is the absence of finger-pointing or assignment of blame. Crow tells her story in a clear voice devoid of self-indulgent apologia. With humility and clarity, she covers both the betrayals she encountered and the self-discovery she made in the aftermath of the maelstrom in whose center she found herself.

How Crow's career and personal life imploded when her clandestine relationship with a popular general was exposed is by turns exhilarating, wistful and poignantly raw. The general (whose name is changed in the book) is painted as neither villain nor hero; his presence is almost peripheral in Crow's account, which leaves readers to arrive at their own conclusions about abuse of power and accountability. In the end she spared herself and those she cared for the ordeal that a public court-martial would have delivered, but she sacrificed a great deal in the process, the least of which was a promising career.

Crow says that her intent was to tell her story with as much grace as possible, and she has accomplished this, effectively communicating the intimacies she shared with the two men in her life during this period without devolving into gratuitously graphic detail.

More importantly, Crow's memoir is a meditation on what it was like to be a woman serving in the Marines at a point in history when women were fighting to prove themselves capable of succeeding in a male-dominated culture. It's also about the heart-wrenching irony of the tradeoffs women wrestled with — still wrestle with — when they aspire to excel in roles once refused them.

Lorrie Lykins is a longtime correspondent with the Times and writes the Ask Dr. Delay column.