Coming-of-age experiences contrast with the Korean War in Ritter’s debut novel.
A single mother gives up her son, Timothy, for adoption, and the novel follows his life from childhood to adolescence and, finally, as a soldier in the Korean War. Throughout his life, Timothy struggles. Adoptive parents John and Martha do their best to raise him, but he falls in with two ne’er do wells, Wes and Raymond, who encourage bad behavior, theft and general nastiness. At various junctures in his youth, Timothy takes wrong turns, such as not visiting a potential girlfriend, instead choosing to get drunk. For some reason, as a teen, he is encouraged to babysit 6-year-old Cindy. Undaunted by his surly manner, she is kind to him and teaches him to waltz to Tchaikovsky. The music has a powerful effect, helping Timothy break out of his usual hostility and appreciate beauty. This scene is mirrored later when he helps a lost young Korean girl during the war; the music replays inside his head as he dances with her amid the rubble. Another parallel occurs when he encounters Jake, who helped his birth mother when she was desperate and alone, also aids Timothy in a similar fashion. While the narrative is strong in description, such as Timothy’s vision of a “shimmering paladin,” and in its dreamlike qualities, Timothy is a frustrating protagonist due to the poor choices he makes. When Humphrey is introduced as Timothy’s fellow Marine, the reader breathes a sigh of relief; he is the voice of sanity, reads Ecclesiastes (from which the book’s title is drawn) and actually listens to Timothy. Gunny Talbot, who leads the soldiers’ regiment, also is a mentor and offers guidance. The author has adopted children and his father fought in Korea, lending experience and believability to the subject, which is also enhanced by the author’s cited resources used in researching the war.
Ritter artfully and realistically depicts a rough road to adulthood with a wartime motif.