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The reviews currently on Audible seem to be all over the place, in regards to this book, so I hope to make things clear. For what this book is, it is GENIUS.
It tells the stories of some of the "lowest men on the totem pole" in the US Army, prior to the US entering the war. You're not going to get the big battles, the big personalities (like MacArthur or Patton), or the big action. What you will get is TONS of tension and human conflict! Jones' ability to make these characters real is remarkable. The situations they find themselves in, while not the most exciting, are filled with drama.
The stakes are high in almost every scene, and the character are so fleshed out that we actually care what happens to them. The writing is some of the best I've ever read, in terms of transporting the reader into the gritty, terrible world that these men occupied on a daily basis. It wasn't pretty, but it was real.
The narrator was a mixed bag for me. Some of the time he seemed to be whispering, which was a bit odd and unnecessary. However, his different voices help the characters stand out, which is greatly needed when there are this many to keep track of.
Overall, if you enjoy WWII historical fiction, and want something that delves deeper into the human psychodrama of soldiers, instead of just the battles, this is the book for you.
18 of 19 people found this review helpful
The first thing that struck me, having grown so used to the movie version over the years, is how young all the characters are. Most of them are barely into their early 20s, and some of them are still in their teens. And like so many young men of that age, they are trying to understand life. It was just a smidge surprising to hear the same old college dorm room bull sessions coming out of the mouths of young enlisted men. But college kids have no reason to think they have a monopoly on that kind of philosophical speculation. Prewitt is at the heart of this conversation on what it is to be a man. His internal conflict between his own sense of self and what the Army demands of him is what drives the whole book.
Set in 1941, and written 10 years later, this book preserves an honest depiction of how a certain class of people lived and thought, while unavoidably coloring it with how Americans were changed by the war and its aftermath. Allowing for a certain amount of authorial tampering, this is a more uncensored look at normal Americans than you will get from the movies, and a whole lot more informative than you will get from history books. I applaud the visceral realism that James Jones tries to capture here.
I had no idea the movie version dealt with such a narrow slice of this book. To it's credit, the movie captures the essential core of the book as far as story and characters go. What got lost is a lot of the back story for the characters, and how the peacetime military became a refuge for young men hit hard by the Depression. In fact, the influence of the early 20th century labor movement, the Prohibition years, the Depression, and hobo subculture, all loom large as formative factors for these people. The other thing that got shorted was the internal life of these characters.
One odd thing about the novel is that there is a change in tone that takes over most of the last quarter of it. It kind of feels like that portion was written earlier, before Jones had polished his style. It feels amateurish like a young writer trying to imitate some cheap pulp fiction of the time. Jones does a good deal of damage to the authenticity of the characters he worked so hard to create. Fortunately, he manages to get back on track and ends strong.
Overall, Elijah Alexander does a great job of keeping all the characters straight and giving them appropriate accents. My one complaint is that I wish he hadn't adopted such an exaggerated drawl for Maylon Stark.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful