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GROUNDED EAGLES

THREE TALES OF THE RAF IN WWII

An impressive and memorable trio of works about the many costs of war.

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In Schrader’s collection of novellas, men of the Royal Air Force try to make it through World War II without losing their sense of self.

In these three novellas, British airmen struggle with the complex roles that they must fill during and after their time at war. The first, A Stranger in the Mirror, tells the story of David “Banks” Goldman, a fighter pilot who’s lucky to have survived the destruction of his Hurricane. He didn’t make it out unscathed, however: His hands and his face have been burned beyond recognition. Reconstructive surgery can give him a new face, although it will take a lot of time and cause him a great deal of pain, and the chances of him flying again are slim. He wonders if a Banks who can’t fly and who wears a different visage is truly the same person. In A Rose in November, Rhys Jenkins, a widower and father of two, is perhaps too old to fight when the war begins—he had his share of that in the previous one—but he’s just received his dream posting as the “chiefy,” or ground chief, of a Spitfire squadron. When he meets Hattie Fitzsimmons, an officer in the Salvation Army who’s in a different social class, he’s forced to choose between his heart and his duty. The final novel, Lack of Moral Fibre, is a tale of objection. Kit Moran has flown 36 operations, and he refuses to fly a 37th. He is declared “LMF”—“lacking moral fiber”—and sent to a mental health facility for evaluation. If his psychiatrist, Ralph Grace, can find a medical reason for his refusal, he’ll receive treatment. If not, he’ll be punished for cowardice. Kit’s reasons for objecting turn out to be more complex than he can understand.

Over the course of this collection, Schrader’s prose is understated but often arresting, as when Banks works up the courage to look at his own burned face: “An image took shape in the glass. A mummy with glistening, shifting eyes. There was something inherently terrifying about a moving mummy because it suggested the return of the dead.” The stories here offer the reader compelling psychological explorations of men grappling with the traumas of war and attempting to find places for themselves in civilian society. In this way, the narratives have a timeless feel, but part of the joy of Schrader’s work is the way in which she brings the reader into highly specific, less-illuminated corners of British WWII history. A Stranger in the Mirror, with its exploration of traumatic injury, is perhaps the strongest of the pieces, but each of the others immerses the reader in a world of its own, with its own rules, shames, and dangers. Together, the novellas paint a grimly vivid portrait of what the average RAF serviceman might have experienced while also limning the contradictory ideals that they attempted—and often failed—to live up to during wartime.

An impressive and memorable trio of works about the many costs of war.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9891597-9-1

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Cross Seas Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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