Gently sketched tale of World War II-era lives in rural California.
The story opens at an air show, where Darla, the tale’s Scheherazade, relates to her friend the details of her life and the lives of her friends and relations throughout the war years. Taken along with the title, the premise suggests mushy sentiment, but debut-novelist Desmond writes with an inscrutably dispassionate style that is anything but maudlin. Rather than the result of emotion being withheld for the sake of a greater payoff, however, this is simply the work of a distant, mechanical writer. Turning points of the war tick off like mileposts along with the plot: The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, farm boys enlist and ride the waves of national anger and patriotism through flight school or basic training, get shipped off to war, storm beachheads or go on bombing runs, risk being shot down and marry (or not) while their girlfriends, wives and families back home try to maintain normalcy. Desmond shows flashes of solid writing, such as a hair-raising episode in which a B-17 crew performs an emergency landing and is nearly captured on German soil. But these sections are far too infrequent, and while they suggest that the author understands the mechanics of rhythm and suspense, he is unable to sustain them. While Desmond provides vivid descriptions of the proper loading of an M-1 Garand rifle and the engineering behind a Wright Cyclone R-18 radial engine, the robotic dialogue he’s crafted results in flat emotional responses and little dynamic interaction between characters. For example, one character’s post-coital pillow-talk consists of a two-and-a-half-page technical description of a bombing run.
War buffs will appreciate the details; less technical readers won’t have the patience to wade through the dross.