Saturday, February 6, 2021

Books that matter


I tried to apply this term to the books I read in my recent quest which seems to have begun with four books written by Ann Pachett followed by one by Graham Greene, one by Mickey Spillane, and one by Nelson DeMille.  I read Ann Patchett as part of my half-hearted but on-going quest to question Harold Bloom's Western Classics' choices, and by implication his definitions.  Patchett was being touted by some as being an important novelist, someone who wins prizes, someone who might someday be considered as great.  I read four of her novelsI thought them not bad, but I'm not sure that any of them mattered to me.  Graham Greene's novel may matter to those interested in Cold War literature.  I have enjoyed Nelson DeMille more than any of the others.  His treatment of the murder of a female West Point cadet is an excellent mystery story and at the same time it addresses discrimination against women in the military in the best literary fashion, meaning, without preaching. 

The main character in The General's Daughter is Army Warrant Officer Paul Brenner who even though he solves the General Daughter's murder is chastised for disobeying some direct orders in the process.  He receives a formal reprimand; so, in a huff he retires.  Ten years after The General's Daughter, DeMille wrote Up Country.  Up Country takes place six month after the end of The General's Daughter.  Paul Brenner, still in a huff, is talked into returning to Vietnam to ostensibly solve a murder that occurred during the war.  I am 20% through Up Country and enjoying Brenner's reminiscences as well as life in later-on (Demille wrote this novel in 2002) Vietnam.  This novel matters a little to me because I made a decision, back in 1955, not to stay in the Marine Corps and instead to go to college on the G. I. Bill.  When I enlisted in the Corps in 1952, I thought I might make a career of it.  I was in Korea during the last two battle seasons, but didn't see combat.  I was over there when the truce was signed; so during my remaining enlistment I experienced what it was like to be a peace-time Marine; which wasn't what I signed up for. 

Years later while working on the C-17 Program I represented engineering on a change board where Gene Lindley, a retired Marine Corps Captain represented Product Support.  He was a heavy smoker and though I didn't smoke I would go outside with him when he did and we we would talk about the Corps.  I mentioned that the only enticement they offered me to stay in was an increase in rank to Staff Sergeant.  Gene said that was a very good deal.  Rank became very hard to get at about that time.  If I'd stayed in I would likely have been among the sergeants sent to South Vietnam as advisors in 1962.   In retrospect that doesn't seem like something I would enjoy doing, but back in 1955 a Staff Sergeant tried to talk me into "shipping over" (re-enlisting for six years) and I considered it.  I asked if he could give me embassy duty and he said the list of those trying to get that was prohibitively long, but he could offer me sea duty and the increase in rank.  I was enjoying being a senior rifle instructor at Camp Pendleton and had that been a permanent assignment  (or as permanent as those things go) I might have stayed in, but as soon as we had everyone qualified we would be sent back to our previous assignments and mine was at Twenty-Nine Palms, an extremely miserable place; so I left and four years later had a degree in English qualifying me for 39 years in Douglas which merged with McDonnell which was bought out by Boeing.

I didn't see combat in Korea, but had I shipped over in 1955, I would have seen it in Vietnam; so DeMille's Paul Brenner novel matters to me.  I've described a personal set of considerations.  Whether and in what sense Demille's novel might matter to someone else, I can't say. 

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