A moving first novel about a courageous soldier who fought in WWII and grew to hate it.
Twentysomething James McCleary, foot soldier in the 95th Infantry Division, was “a typical dogface,” as his best friend puts it. Having fought through most of the war, including the horrific Battle of the Bulge, he finishes in the hands of the enemy, a POW. The war over, he returns to Far Rockaway, N.Y., and to his sweetheart, Maddie Brandt. He marries Maddie and fathers three sons, to whom he remains an enigma all his life. It was the war—physically intact, he’s a casualty nonetheless. What he saw and what he did never leaves him, making it impossible to perform the roles society has assigned him. “I don’t think I can remember one time when I saw him laugh,” one of the boys says to Maddie, a complaint shared by all three siblings. But it’s John, the oldest and most sensitive, who suffers most from a father missing in action. And it’s John who, at last, gains an insight into the nature and extent of the war wounds. After Maddie’s death, the McClearys put the house up for sale. Emptying the attic, John finds a packet of letters from James, a young soldier, to Maddie, the girl he loves and left behind. In alternating scenes, The author shows James’s view of the war and John’s reaction to it. The son gets to see his father in a light that astonishes him—not the shadowy, withdrawn figure that embittered his growing up, but someone vividly alive, someone as afraid as he was brave, someone remarkable.
Not flawless, but certainly heartfelt, and searing in its condemnation. On his last page, Nappi quotes Christopher Marlowe: “Accurst be he who first invented war.”