Life in a military base

2008-10-02 08:05

FROM the man who brought us Jarhead, the memoirs of serving as a U.S. marine in the first Gulf war, comes another tale of military life. This time it is fictional and set in the confines of a U.S. military base.

We meet Severin, high school football star and the son of a base colonel. Severin is in love with Virginia, the wayward daughter of the base general, herself half-Japanese, half-Caucasian. She is caught up in the shady underworld of petty crime and, taking Severin with her, soon ends up way over her head. Justice is served. Time passes. They lose contact but their paths are obviously destined to cross again. That's the plot.

This is not Tom Clancyesque military-lit. It is a much softer attempt to explore life on and after a military camp. And that is where the book fails. Swofford writes better from recall, as in Jarhead, than from artifice.

Life in Wysteria Lane, for example, far removed from military life, captures far more accurately the cabin fever bitchiness of close-quarter lives. I grew up with kids who grew up on military bases. They were all a strange bunch to be sure, but Swofford has left far too much of this terrain uncovered.

Exit A is piggybacking on the success of Jarhead. It is a readable enough story of masculinity and family intrigues, but the characters are far too one-dimensional. Then there is the ending. Far too abrupt.

What happens next? The reader is shoved out the book via the quickest exit imaginable.

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