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In the author's last book, Mrs. Bridge, Evan Connell created a touching, poignant character out of materials which, at first, were only ordinary. Melvin Isaacs, the ""Patriot"" of the book, is another one of the characters Connell seems to favor --people about whom there is essentially nothing special but who for one reason or another find themselves in situations with which they are ill-equipped to deal. In 1942 Melvin at 17, imbued with his father's notions of patriotism, decided to become a Naval Air Force cadet. His marks had never been particularly good and he had difficulty in the program. But his main trouble arose from the fact that he couldn't seem to coordinate himself, either with the attitudes of his companions or the tactical necessities of the training, and he was always on the verge of being washed out though he was intensely idealistic and desperately wanted to fly. Then just short of graduation Melvin reaches a crisis: he takes a plane up and presumably destroyed it deliberately, convinced that he wanted to die. For this piece of folly he flunks out and spends the duration chasing officers' golf balls in Texas. At the end of the war he enrolls in college, having decided that he wants to be an artist and although he creates quite a splash with abstractions he gives it up apparently in favor of failure. He marries a fellow student (she's already pregnant) and then at the end of the book, receives his draft notice for the new war. But Melvin determines not to go. All of this goes to demonstrate Melvin's journey from uncertainty to uncertainty (even if the likelihood is that he will not stick to his guns -- in jail). Melvin Isaacs is certainly not a hero. What makes him different from everyone else is the fact that he is helplessly tuned in on only his own frequency. The Patriot is a skillful, highly readable, often comic, novel which finally depends on an essential precarious point: if Melvin Isaacs were not what he hopelessly is then The Patriot would be only another one of those books about young men confronting Life and either making it or going under.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1960
Publisher: Viking