by James Webb ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 14, 1983
Three Annapolis graduates and their wives from 1951 to 1975--in a stiff, earnest saga that's strong on issues-and-history (from a conservative viewpoint), far weaker on character-development and overall storytelling. The big three, who swear blood-brotherhood on graduation day: part-Indian hillbilly Judd Smith, a wild womanizer headed for Marine Corps officer training; Red Lesczynski, a poor Pennsylvania ""Polack"" headed for Navy pilot training; and Joe Dingenfelder, a Jewish engineer headed for MIT. But, though they'll eventually wind up together in a contrived, violent finale, the three heros' paths will very rarely cross dramatically through the decades. Judd is soon in Korea (""I am Judd Smith, prisoner of my history""), leading a rifle platoon and getting wounded on a night raid; as part of a Marine honor guard at the White House, he meets and marries Senator's daughter Julia, joining the late-Fifties FBI; but after his marriage crumbles he finds God (an unconvincing leap), becomes a down-home preacher, attracts media attention for his pro-Vietnam War stands, and winds up in Congress. Meanwhile, career Navy-man Red marries sweet/simple Sophie, flies Korea missions, becomes fascinated with Japan, teaches at Annapolis; but he goes back into action in Vietnam, as a squadron executive officer (he ""felt as if he were somewhere between a gladiator and a whore"")--winding up a tortured, brainwashed POW for seven years, in the novel's most powerful sequence by far. And Joe, the blandest of a faceless trio, follows MIT with military-tech teaching, a stint as exchange officer to the RAF Technical College, and then jobs as the Strategic Air Command's liaison during the development of missiles--all to the growing fury of wife Dorothy, an anti-military type who becomes an ACLU lawyer, civil-rights activist, and anti-Vietnam protester. There are frequent Vietnam-era debates between Judd and Dorothy, then, Judd always coming out on top--with lines like ""the anti-war movement screams about fascism, but they've created the conditions of fascism. . . ."" (Re Kent State.) And after Red comes home at last, he's disillusioned by a changed America--dying in a limp, symbolic Japan fadeout (his passion for Asia ""had killed him""), while Joe is spiritually dead. . . for murky reasons. Webb (Fields of Fire) writes sturdily, with extra flair in battle scenes; so some devotees of the couples-through-history formula--especially those attuned to Webb's politics--will be stolidly entertained. But, with a choppy pace and minimal animation, this is far less readable or involving than Thomas Fleming's very similar The Officers' Wives (1981).
Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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