Woodard (Wearing the Cat: Part One, 2016, etc.) delivers the second installment in his satirical series about a Navy dentist.
Lt. Nick McGill is stationed at an air base in Japan. As a member of the Dental Corps, his duties on base tend to involve drilling teeth and waiting around for dental emergencies, and he tries to keep his sanity despite military rigmarole. McGill engages in plenty of scenes of military comedy (some involving a rival lieutenant who develops a foot condition). His off-base actions, though, are at the heart of this bumpy adventure. He learns a lot about Japan as he teaches English to a high-rolling businessman named Mr. Sanbuichi, and he also falls in love with a local woman named Saori Sawa. He ventures into the country with gusto, noting that “If a spindly, Brit could become Lawrence of Arabia, then surely he, an American Uberlieutenant and Dentist, could become McGill of Japan.” Along the way, the Navy man becomes steeped in Japanese mythology and cuisine—he learns about a fabled fox with seven tails and the dangers of fugu fish, for example—all while pursuing sex with local women. Woodard makes clear that McGill doesn’t shy away from crassness; for instance, the lieutenant frequently refers to his “hardometer”—a metaphorical measurement of how erect his penis is. When a plane crash occurs on base, however, the novel takes a darker turn, and McGill’s story takes on a new level of earnestness. Readers will find that when a goofy figure like McGill deals with the unimaginable task of identifying mangled bodies, it gives the book a striking, unexpected realism. They’ll wonder how a man whose normal day-to-day concerns revolve around crude sexual fantasies deals with sea gulls picking at the remains of his former colleagues. The McGill that eventually emerges may still compare an indigestion-induced bowel movement to “fifty gallons of rich brown gravy,” but both he and readers come away with a fuller understanding of life and loss by the end of the novel.
A raunchy but memorable military tale.