What started with Edgerton (Lunch at the Piccadilly, 2003, etc.) learning to fly airplanes comes full circle through war, then back home to a horizon full of doubts.
Edgerton’s mother was protective, but she also wanted her boy to be independent and worldly, so she agreed to let him fly, first in high school, then as a ROTC candidate in college. As Edgerton patiently explains the fundamentals of flying—from physics to check lists, instrumentation, lifting off, landing, recovering from stalls (Edgerton will make your hair bristle here)—he conveys the distinct personalities of aircraft and his own experiences with them: Cherokee 140, Laredo, T-41, T-37, T-38, F-4, and the OV-10 that he later flew on missions in Vietnam. Before then, though, each plane was a passage toward a destiny he couldn’t have imagined, each one a bit of training with fun and high jinks, mock dogfights, nights spent stealing the general’s car. Edgerton brings an energy and innocence to these proceedings, though they prepare neither him nor the reader for what was to come when he shipped to Japan. There was the real possibility of nuclear engagement with North Korea, but that fact slipped over his head. What couldn’t pass him by were bombing runs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, or searching for downed pilots, many of them lost forever (though they maintained radio contact while on the ground for some time). Since then, Edgerton has done a lot of brooding about his war years, about how flying, once so bright and pure, became a vehicle for misgivings that collapsed into discomfort and dread, then regret. He even has a swansong later in life, but his nose gets dirtied and he’s ready to hang up the goggles.
Flying was Edgerton’s crazy love, and his story of the affair goes ineluctably from the smitten and folksy to the fraught. File under, “Icarus.”