Starry-eyed college student who yearns to be a hero rushes headlong into World War I.
In this first installment in a promised trilogy, fictional author “Will Remain” is on a quest to pen an epic story of a Marine Corps family—and secure his own sanity. A few cryptic journal entries tell us that Remain is a troubled Vietnam veteran who sacrificed a marriage to chronicle the lives of his Marine forefathers. The narrative begins in 1917 with his grandfather, Kenneth Remain, a working-class Harvard student longing for adventure. World War I rages in Europe, and though the United States is not yet in the conflict, many Americans feel a dark inertia propelling them toward the fight. Kenneth enlists in the Marines, and his friend, Lawrence Blakeslee, a child of wealth less committed to the cause as he is to Kenneth, decides to tag along. A letter from a classmate already serving in France shatters the genteel naivety, contrasting the idealism of youth with the horrific reality of war. In a style reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author presents Harvard of the early 20th century as an oak-lined world of social clubs, stained-glass windows and marble plaques honoring alumni who died in battle. The superbly described setting serves to reinforce Kenneth’s desires, but the author also points out cracks in those ivied walls. Kenneth’s almost visceral need to prove himself may lead to the “good death” found by so many Harvardians before him. Though the book is a story of a would-be warrior, war itself is not glorified. Kenneth’s zeal finds a perfect counterbalance in Lawrence, who cautions, “The amount of blood that would be shed by American boys should give us all pause. Let’s not be too eager to stick our necks out.” While it is clear that Kenneth is destined to become a hero, the question remains whether he understands the potential price: the loss of innocence.
Velvety description and devil-may-care dialogue paint the tale of a romantic young man eager to test himself amid the blood, mud and barbed wire of the Great War.