A NECESSARY END: A Novel of World War II by Nathaniel Benchley

A NECESSARY END: A Novel of World War II

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Benchley specializes in knocking the wind out of heroic stereotypes, and this ""diary"" of a sixteen-year-old signalman assigned to one of the patrol crafts known collectively as the ""Donald Duck navy"" succeeds almost too well. Ralph's episodic notes on the boring routine, the loneliness created by superficial relationships in close quarters, the false alarms which nevertheless take their toll on everyone's nerves generate truthful, slow motion suspense. The writing has the awkwardness one would expect from a highschool dropout (the pains taker with spelling and syntax are even explained by Ralph's hope that it will eventually be published), and Ralph seems equally careful to avoid insightfulness: one can only guess at the complex craziness of a troubled officer he condemns for trying to be buddies with the enlisted men; parents and friends are barely mentioned and his ideas about girls are mostly the commonest sort of hearsay. Ralph hasn't even the dimmest notion of the significance of the atomic bomb (""The way I see it, this may make the invasion easier"") and is jarred only slightly by his first sight of post-surrender Japan. Ralph's death when his PC is blown up by an unswept American mine is little more than a postscript--an end that seems no more necessary than any other. His relentless ordinariness is itself a stereotype, but you can bet that his Navy experience is recognizable enough to exert a dreadful fascination. The anti-characterization that Benchley couldn't get away with in Beyond the Mists succeeds here because he knows the territory so well.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1976
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Harper & Row