In this debut memoir, a writer narrates his last summer before being drafted and the staggering choice he soon faced.
During the summer of 1967, all that Glass and his best friend, Keith, cared about were plans to travel up the East Coast while surfing beaches from Miami to New York. The Vietnam War was nothing more than a topic to be avoided around parents and certain friends. After buying an antique hearse, the two became temporary local celebrities before eventually setting off in a VW that Keith stole in a momentary act of teenage rebellion. They made their way through parties, diners, and girls across the mid-Atlantic, before meeting the beautiful Barbara, who ended up becoming Glass’ girlfriend. Then he received news that due to slipping grades and skipped classed, he would be drafted. Suddenly without a future, Glass headed into basic training in South Carolina and then to a base on the West Coast, but with no surfing in the sun as he had often dreamed. At this point, more than halfway through the account, the memoir finally reveals itself to be the exciting recollections of a deserter. For months, he slipped in and out of the Army bureaucracy and jail as he struggled with the idea of abandoning the base for the counterculture of San Francisco before making a final, life-changing decision. Glass skillfully captures the tense mood among forced recruits, watching those who resisted get dragged away. He also explores abuse at the Presidio with great care, narrating a near uprising among soldiers. Unfortunately, the work’s first half weighs down this intriguing material. Details of beaches and cars and stiff dialogue take up far too much space. (Most exchanges do not advance plot or character development: “I can’t believe we are finally going!” “This car really has a lot more power than my old one.”) By the thrilling, but far too abrupt conclusion, it is clear that the book has left some great opportunities on the side of the road.
This account features an important perspective on a volatile moment of American history, but fails to showcase some of its best moments.