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Will Pope, 18, the son of a Midwestern governor, is sent into the teeth of World War II's final and extremely bloody final months: January 1945 and after, following the Battle of the Bulge. Will is sensitive, given to fainting spells as a boy; in fact, his father has tried (unsuccessfully) to use Will's frailty as a basis for getting him removed from combat. And Will tries to resist the dehumanization of G.I. life, the harshness and crudeness. (""With satisfaction, he realized he had thought of it as his 'small' shovel instead of his 'fucking' shovel, and he smiled."") But Will's first kill in combat annihilates the luxury of any remaining innocence. The gentle young man is given the worst job a foot soldier can draw: being part of a mine platoon, going out in advance of the troops to defuse enemy mines and/or plant them to be used against German tanks. He sees unbearable carnage, best friends blasted apart by artillery fire; he witnesses venality and murderousness among his fellow soldiers; and he becomes aware of the upper-echelon gambles that translate into hundreds of American lives lost. Boyd's debut fiction makes virtually no attempt at novelistic shape or texture: Will is pushed through the wartime slaughter in a straight line, with survival itself the only ultimate virtue. But, if one-dimensional and somewhat thin, this direct, almost artless narrative has power and integrity: a solid, unshowy war novel, offering the plain impact usually associated with an autobiographical document.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's