Brewer (Matthew Dobbs, Esquire, 2011), an apparent history buff, puts his avocation to good use in this novel set in Europe during World War I.
Michael Renard is a shy, unattractive man from humble circumstances who signs on as an overworked, underpaid math teacher at an undistinguished public school. He’s a hard worker and soon discovers that he has a talent for writing. He marries a woman, Alice, who’s a virgin like himself—sex is awkward for both of them—and, not long after, enlists in the British Army in the first world war. He becomes an artillery sergeant in the trenches who, despite serving under egregiously incompetent officers, cares for his men and shows such mettle and talent that he eventually becomes an officer himself. The war brings out the best in Michael; he’s now his own man, a man in charge. Meanwhile, however, his young wife back home is seduced by a cad and fraud named Henry Middleton—a fact that Michael eventually discovers. As he works to salvage his marriage, he also plots revenge upon Middleton. Although the book’s early exposition, especially, is somewhat awkward and stiff, Brewer’s confrontational scenes are powerful, and his attention to the details of life at the front is noteworthy. One hallmark of a ripping good yarn is whether readers care about the characters, and in this, they won’t be disappointed. The story may be melodramatic, but, as in a richly entertaining play, readers will root for Michael and Alice and hiss and boo when the oleaginous Middleton sidles onto the stage. What saves it from being mere entertainment, however, is the author’s sensitive handling of Michael and Alice’s relationship. The book’s title may seem a bit puzzling—Terpsichore is the classical Greek muse of dance—but Brewer manages to handle the metaphor with a light touch, showing that life is indeed a dance and that those who learn to dance gracefully deserve our respect.
A pleasing historical tale by a promising writer.