UNKNOWN SOLDIERS by John Rolfe Gardiner


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A proudly isolated family is spearheaded by the increasingly malicious mischief of thirteen-year-old Panimer as he uncovers a scandal and shakes the righteous establishment of a small Virginia town during World War II. As in Great Dreams from Heaven (1974), Gardiner forges his often theatrical situations out of the harsh, chip-on-the-shoulder ethos of a fiercely independent, Depression-bred workingman who is fortified by a contempt for clustered power. This is Panimer's father, Junior--handsome, maimed in a mine explosion. But Paula, Junior's wife, is eager to be accepted by the town in the excitement of its blowsy wartime patriotism, and it is Panimer who initiates ""sabotage"" against the smug community, beginning with minor hellraising and ending with his discovery of the contents of a mysterious cinder block building--supposedly a monument to the war effort. Paula is blinded by a fire in the explosives factory and is barely tolerated by the town; Panimer is almost suffocated by an arsonist's attempt to destroy evidence in the cinder block building and finally plunges from the courthouse balcony where he is on trial for arson and murder. In spite of oases of young love and rowdy devilment, Panimer seems to be less a kid obsessed than a functional abstract of obsession; there is little of the root fever, the muddle of adolescence. However, although the prose is occasionally gimpy (""the boredom he excited in her""), and there is a surfeit of circumstantial overstatement, the regional ambiance hits hard as a pickup truck on a washboard road.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Dutton