The Happy Life of Preston Katt by J.J. Zerr

The Happy Life of Preston Katt

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A young man finds a second home in the military, as well as a purpose in life, in Zerr’s (Noble Deeds, 2013, etc.) realistic story of naval warfare during World War II.

Preston Katt enlisted in the Navy to escape his alcoholic mother, but he experiences a quantum leap in brutality when his destroyer, the USS Callahan, is docked in Pearl Harbor on the day of the 1941 Japanese attack. Once the United States declares war, the ship joins the other surviving destroyers to shield U.S. battle groups steaming toward storied engagements in the Pacific theater. Seaman Katt, assigned to scan the seas in search of periscopes and torpedoes, demonstrates an uncanny ability to discern such threats in roiling seas. In fact, his skill as a lookout earns him the nickname “Eagle-Eye Katt”; soon afterward, though, he’s forced to leave his beloved Callahan and assigned to other ships. His hope of one day returning to his old vessel is a principal driver for the rest of the story. The descriptions spring to life with well-chosen details, such as the “eyeball-burning spots of fire dotting the ships” in dry dock or the hammering that sailors endured in a ship turning sharply in violent seas. Meanwhile, Zerr judiciously reveals the pain of Katt’s private war as he struggles with memories of an awful childhood. These moments make him emerge as a three-dimensional character, making it easy for readers to feel proud of him when he’s later awarded medals and advances in rank. It’s also easy to follow the overall plot, which strikes a nice balance between these different aspects of the story. It may be more difficult, though, for readers to understand Katt’s apparent belief that his misfortunes are punishments from God; although he’s occasionally satisfied, he never expresses the “happiness” of the title.

A detailed portrayal of an everyday sailor that rings true.

Pub Date: April 29th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4917-6233-2
Page count: 198pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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