In the third entry in the author’s French Letters series (Engaged in War, 2018, etc.), two brothers cope with the aftermaths of two wars.
In Colorado in 1983, Woodrow Wilson Hastings jumps off a Colorado overpass into oncoming traffic, and “Will Hastings’ time on earth was over.” At the funeral, his sons, Peter and Frank, quarrel bitterly. Peter calls Frank “an actual bastard” whom Will had brought home from World War II in France, where Will had been a combat surgeon. Peter’s written apology never reaches Frank, and hard feelings grow as Frank tries to prove that he’s not the adopted son of a French whore—but the discovery of old wartime letters shakes Frank’s understanding of who he is. They’re very different characters: Peter had been a star athlete, an Air Force Academy graduate and a gunship pilot in Vietnam, and now he is a Pan Am pilot who loves “the freedom of flight.” Frank has a learning disability and “grew up largely invisible but observant.” He fought as a grunt in Vietnam and now reports for the local paper while writing a war novel on the side. Meanwhile, their mother, Virginia, sits in Loving Arms rest home, “demented as a bedbug.” Each squabbling brother then faces his own life-changing event, and Peter’s is a doozy. He’s deadheading—a pilot riding as a passenger—on a 747 that’s hijacked and flown to Karachi. Frank flies to France to find his grandmother and learn more about who he really is. His travels through Normandy and small towns such as Saint-Lô combine with Will’s wartime backstory to bring a rich feel to the tale. While readers wonder whether the brothers will reconcile, interesting surprises await.
Fraught relationships, wartime letters, and complex characters make this a satisfying read.