Rarely has the similarity between war and family been as clearly drawn as it is in this scathing, unblinking memoir.
Sylvia Plath's infamous, pseudo-fictional "Daddy'' has nothing on Thomsen's father, a monstrously cruel and egocentric man who inflicted endless humiliations upon his family, particularly his son. But Thomsen (The Saddest Pleasure, 1990 etc.) isn't after pity or even revenge, only understanding. It would be too easy, even dishonest, to dismiss his father as a psychotic brute driven by nothing more than motiveless malignity. Behavior has its reasons, and no matter how unpleasant they might be, Thomsen refuses to flinch. His father, Thomsen writes, "wanted to love me and probably felt guilty because he couldn't, and he had discovered with the death of his father and sister that the one thing that they had to do before he could really love them was to die.'' When WW II came, Thomsen's father turned briefly affectionate, believing (even expecting) that his son would die in battle (leaving him to play the noble, grieving parent). It was a close call. As a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force Thomsen knew his chances of surviving the war were not good. Skill or intelligence made little difference; life and death were the province of mere chance. As friend after friend died, Thomsen sank into nihilistic depths of despair, made worse by his inability to shake the claims of honor, duty, and bravery that he no longer believed in. The horror, the waste, the sheer lunacy of war are expertly and unstintingly recounted here. Even in the shadows of old age (this book is being published posthumously), Thomsen's anger, fear, and pain burn through. He spares us, and himself, little. Few memoirs possess such a bleak sensibility, for Thomsen refuses all easy redemptions and false reconciliations. If there is hope here, it's only in his steadfast belief in the truth.
A remarkable work of brave, unwavering insight.