The sons of hardscrabble Swedish immigrants join the Army to discover their own “Promised Land” across the Atlantic in Edwards’ work of fiction.
In Edwards’ picaresque fictional memoir, Jay Petersson and Denny Johnsson escape the boredom of Vermont farm life—and the country their first-generation parents fought to be part of—by joining the war effort. Jay, by his own admission, can’t help being “sarcastic and bitter.” Early on, his mother succumbs to tuberculosis and his oppressive father recruits her sister, Emilie, to fill in on the farm just before an Irish “quarry slug” murders him. Jay and Aunt Emilie, left to fend for themselves, begin a sexual relationship. “I will help you understand how to excite a woman,” she assures her nephew. “It all comes very naturally.” Later, Jay disputes their relationship was “incest.” “Naw,” he tells a wide-eyed Denny. “That’s when you sleep with your mom.” Memories of lustful trysts in European locales abound; participants include: “buxom” Kristin; “Fire-Engine-Red Sigrid”; “three-nippled nymph” Babette; Sonja and Rosellen, who take the pair to Grecian islands; and Carlotta from Dresden, so moved by Jay’s lovemaking she gives 20,000 marks to his hedge fund scheme. The residue of a lost love lingers in the form of Anni, who eventually breaks Jay’s heart, once thought impervious. Nightmares also haunt Jay, as he and Denny spend the close of the war setting up a black market distribution center, using GI Bill cash to buy bulk amphetamines in Hamburg as a “root crop” for their venture. Edwards captures the anything-goes, “unstructured world” of northern Europe, and his narrator writes in a no-frills, present tense, with surprising bursts of humor and eroticism. For such a rollicking journey, the book ends rather abruptly. Once Jay reaches the Strait of Gibraltar, he realizes he is “an expat from life itself” just before he heads off spontaneously with Zarzuela, a dark Spanish temptress.
On the Road meets Baedeckers as a pair of expat libertines exploit the resources—and women—of post-World War II Europe.