Hyde perfects the heart-string-pulling techniques of Pay It Forward (2000), this time in a story about a WWII soldier reincarnated in the body of a free-spirited 21-year-old California man who tracks down the soldier’s now elderly old buddy and best girl—to humorous, romantic effect.
“Usually when the hero dies the story is over,” Walter Crowley says in his gee-gosh manner in the first chapter. Walter is a dead WWII hero from Ocean City, New Jersey, who enlisted in 1942 with his best buddy from high school, Andrew Whittaker, and gained a posthumous Purple Heart for bravery. Except that 40 years later Walter is “stuck” in the spirit world, he tells us, harboring grudges and feeling undeserving of his Purple Heart because of the cowardice he exhibited during that moment of crisis. Walter haunts a pot-smoking, sax-playing kid—Michael Steeb—to get him to contact the original Andrew, now in his 60s and living in Albuquerque, in order to set straight the true story behind Walter’s death in Guadalcanal—and to find out how Andrew had the gumption to marry Walter’s fetching red-haired fiancée, Mary Ann. Michael Steeb learns that he carries all of Walter’s memories, and the ones from Walter’s courtship of Mary Ann four decades before induce Michael to fall in love with her all over again, causing enormous havoc within the aged and bitter Andrew and various onlookers who are horrified at the sight of a sixtysomething lady kissing a mere kid. However absurd the premise, Hyde hooks her reader through artless evocation of an earlier, innocent, patriotic era à la Our Town. “I’d like to tell you that I properly appreciated every single moment of the life I was given,” Walter says, echoing the wholesome goodness of almost everyone here.
Shamelessly sentimental, although many will fall for Hyde’s tidy, quick-going, mannerist paragraphs.