Young love, felony, the military, racism and international espionage swirl together in this fiction debut from the author of Jarhead (2003).
In 1989, 17-year-old Severin Boxx is a callow football hero on the U.S. air base in Yokota, Japan. Base General Kindwall has a half-Japanese daughter and a Japanese lover, but he’s thoroughly American in his conviction that the gaijin way of life is best. Not so his daughter Virginia, a punk rocker devoted to armed robbery and frequent screenings of Bonnie and Clyde. Smitten, Severin tattoos her name on his arm. At the behest of her “Boss,” Virginia lures him into their band of thieves: “She had no idea what the Boss needed him for, but she felt certain she could convince Severin to participate—such was his simplicity and, well, his longing.” The general is just as certain that Severin can help steer his daughter back onto the winning team, but things don’t pan out: The Boss’s gang is working for the North Koreans. A busted patsy, Virginia goes off to the slammer, while Severin grows up to major in underachievement in every area except getting himself caught up in emotional turmoil, at which he’s a champ. Then, 15 years after Virginia took the fall, General Kindwell commands Severin’s help from afar, and a complex plot takes still more twists. Reminiscent at turns of The Third Man, with dashes of Less Than Zero and Lost in Translation for flavor, Swofford’s tale has its implausibilities. Still, the author capably seizes little-populated ground; Pat Conroy is one of the very few other novelists who has explored the world of a military dependent as fully and correctly.
A well-rounded tale, even if it ends on a sentimental note that will surprise readers of Swofford’s tough-as-nails memoir.