CODENAME: SOB STORY by Jena M. Steinmetz
Kirkus Star


The Tale of a Picket Line Sailor During WWII
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In this notable debut penned by his granddaughter, a World War II veteran recalls action in the Pacific fleet.

Ten months after Pearl Harbor, young but gung-ho Robert J. Steinmetz convinced his parents to sign off on his Navy enlistment. “Steiny,” as Philadelphia working-class buddies called him, plunged from civilian shipbuilder to Shipfitter, Third Class, aboard the USS Gear ARS 34. The Navy issued these sailors only Marine knives for their assignment to plug holes in sinking ships. “Not even worth real weapons,” he concludes—“the lowest of the low.” He survived seven invasions and battles that forever changed him, hiding his anguish from family members for nearly 70 years. Fortunately, Steiny turns out to be a gifted storyteller. Jena Steinmetz, who began this as-told-to memoir as a project for her English degree, deftly captures her grandfather’s language and personality, as if readers are listening across the kitchen table. Despite a number of typos and editorial lapses that seem to have survived the production process, she demonstrates skill and judgment in transforming extemporaneous talk into fluid prose. Sentence fragments fill the book yet enhance conversational tone rather than hinder readability. Dialect, such as “nuttin’ doin’,” flavors the narrative without overshadowing it, and though some characters swear like sailors, it never feels heavy-handed. Steinmetz also uses novelistic techniques to control the presentation, opening with tense sailors below deck hearing gunfire, then backfilling Steiny’s childhood, enlistment and shipmate bonding. Steiny recalls events with remarkable clarity, and as Steinmetz writes with rich detail, summoning all the senses, the short chapters and poignant scenes propel readers, while time shifts help connect wartime and civilian life. A circle of blood on a white parachute evokes the Japanese flag, food tastes like gasoline, melting metal hisses, and rotting corpses, fresh paint and Iwo Jima’s sulfurous odor assault Steiny’s nose. Most painfully, screams of the fallen and handfuls of clinking dog tags haunt him: “It’s the sounds that still scare the man out of me,” he admits. Readers will quickly care about Steiny, making his postwar life relevant in vignettes that range from harrowing to heartwarming.

A grand tale told well.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1480031074
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2013


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