Set against the backdrop of the political upheaval of the 1960s, Finigan’s novel follows two intersecting stories about youngsters coping with loss.
Judging by the title alone, this first-time author has no dearth of ambition, setting her sights on the grandest of human themes. The narrative tells two tales, both about youngsters struggling to find purpose in the midst of culturally chaotic times. Molly Drayton leaves her insular and emotionally stunted family unprepared for the social ferment of college life. Beguiled by radical politics, she becomes a reporter for a student-run newspaper and revolts against her father’s conservatism, a rebellion that intensifies after he becomes undersecretary of defense. Despite her visceral, ideological commitments, she still seems unable to fix a secure identity, despite describing herself as a “tortured political type.” Jack Masterson, on the other hand, has neither the money nor the interest to pursue a college degree. He delays marrying his girlfriend and searches for adventure by joining the Marines. Of course, he ends up getting much more than he signed up for and is eventually haunted by the dark memories of combat. Jack returns home fractured and marries his girlfriend, only to leave her and his young child shortly thereafter. The prose can be affecting, especially when describing Jack’s harrowing experience in Vietnam: “A Marine’s severed arm lay in a pool of blood, the olive green sleeve still buttoned at the wrist. Jack recognized the thick wedding band, and remembered a man lighting his cigarette in those last moments beneath the red bulb pitching with the waves. Bile rose from his stomach, a foul taste in his throat.” However, the entire story hinges on two characters who remain frustratingly abstract. Jack is a familiar type—the disillusioned veteran dogged by the painful remembrances of war—but he doesn’t bloom into something more. And while Molly has inner turmoil of her own—the suicide of a mother she was always emotionally estranged from—she reads as too achingly naïve to bear. These two underdeveloped characters ultimately connect in a romantic union equally contrived and, therefore, equally unbelievable.
Impressive prose unfortunately used to describe unreal protagonists.