(Ace)Those of us who enjoy fiction seek out the novelist who not only tells a story --- and tells it well --- but that knows when to shut the hell up. The Great Gatsby, The Power and the Glory, Momenti Mori, The Time Machine, The Stranger --- all of them not only steal our hearts with their characters and their tales, but, too, capture us with a pace and a balance that takes us, logically, to some good end.
God wish that Ms. Anthony would read these and learn to what those in the book-writing trade call "pacing." Her tale is of World War I, the place is Flanders, and the hero is an American named Stanhope, a Harvard-educated cowboy (sic) who has volunteered to be a soldier with the British Expeditionary Force. The time-span is exactly nine months. The form is epistolary --- all letters, except the last, from Private Travis Lee Stanhope to his younger brother Bobby.
It may be epistolary, but this ain't no Clarissa. Mud, gangrene, gas, gas masks, bubbling lungs, bodies, horses, sandbags, litters, Very lights, rum wallah, guts hanging out, No Man's Land, duckboards, groins shot away, brains exploded, shellholes filled with bloated humans (and bloated rats ), hands and legs torn off, maggots that glow luminously in bodies, blood-leaking mouths, and, of course, front line soldier dirty talk.
Ms. Anthony has obviously done her homework, and you are there in a numbing sequence of battles, for 354 pages. The static nature of it leaves us a bit numbed as well. The trouble that Ms. Anthony faces in her nine months of trench warfare is the same that Shakespeare faced with Polonius: how do you describe something (or someone) so appallingly tedious without the tale becoming tedious as well. The answer for Shakespeare --- make it brief (Polonius only gets a few appearances to tell his story). For the author of Flanders --- well, they never taught her to pull the threads together at, for example, 125,000 words (that's the length of Gatsby.) She wants so hard to succeed that she becomes one of those people who blurt out their whole life story at you on the plane, trying to get it all said before you leave, or pass out, or pass on.
We get to hear about Stanhope's abusive father fifty-five times, about his passive mother forty-three times, about the "calico" girl seventy-seven times, about his captain (Jewish, gay --- the word in 1916 was "poof") sixty-six times, Keats fifteen times, Stanhope's view of death ("ghosties" and those of Stanhope's friends and relations who have died) one-hundred and thirty-three times, sex forty-nine times, what men's guts look like when they're drooping out of an eviscerated belly seventeen times, what brains look like ditto twelve times. I hope you get my drift: I made up all these numbers, but they're in the ballpark.
Blood and war and death and dying and courage and madness and fear are all galvanizing in their own way, in the right hands, but they run Flanders. Long after she comes up with a base hit, Ms. Anthony chases the ball up into the stands, out the ballpark, into the street and over into the next county. Coupled with this is the fact that she has characters who, soldiers that they are, get mired in the mud and don't move around very much.
Stanhope is just a country boy who's nuts about Keats and Shelley. Mixed in with his homespun, Texas drawl
Well, I tell you, that rubbed my fur wrong-ways...
I meant it sarcastic-like...
Nye reminds me of an old coon hound whose lost his tracking scent and has retired to sentry the yard...
we get several improbable outbursts of poetry, viz:
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass.
It just don't jell, like Ma's bread in a thunderstorm.
They tell us that Ms. Anthony works or worked in the classified ad department of the stodgy Dallas Morning News, and now teaches writing at Southern Methodist University. Let's hope the editors at The News or the good elders at SMU don't get wind of her fascination with gangrene, sadistic rapes, imploded cranial juices, blood mixed with frothy vomit (or frothy vomit mixed with blood) and the very lurid soldier chit-chat during lulls in the falling Battye bombs, jam-pots, and cricket ball grenades. If you want real war novel, you might want to take up The Red Badge of Courage, A Farewell to Arms, or --- for god's sakes --- War and Peace. Let's leave Flanders to drown in a shell-hole just outside Ypres.--- Carlos Amantea