As anti-war protests peak and the Vietnam War wanes in 1970, 18-year-old Glen Kinsella arrives for his annual, uneventful summer sojourn in Corcoran, Minnesota, which he cynically thinks of as his grandfather’s ghost town. But as he tinkers with machinery and grows crops on the farm his mother refuses to visit, Glen reaps a summer of surprises and personal growth.
IN THE SHADOW OF WAR is told from Glen’s viewpoint, which includes plentiful internal dialogue that is often self-critical and bleak. He feels guilty about the accidental death of his mentally disabled older brother, Ricky, whose protection had been Glen’s job since he turned nine and became more adept than his parents at handling his tantrums and odd behaviors. Yet Glen has grown up feeling like a failure and a coward for never standing up to bullies at school who made fun of Ricky.
Author Patrick M. Garry uses simple, direct language to take readers inside Glen’s fear of war by having him compare his response to a severely injured soldier to negative reactions Ricky once received. Similarly, we see Corcoran through the pessimism Glen inherited from his mom who hated growing up there. It is a community, he notes, where empty houses far outnumber residents, a “place to go when you have nothing more to lose.” But Glen is surprised by Corcoran’s “population boom,” including three young military wives who dream of creating a community for other women like themselves and for damaged veterans. They’ve found a champion in Grandpa O’Shea, who has been accumulating abandoned properties in hopes of repopulating Corcoran through offers of free housing and jobs.
Scents and sounds play an important role in the novel’s setting. Glen notes that when the wind is right, Corcoran’s sole restaurant, The Fieldstone Cafe, makes it smell “like the inside of a bakery.” Sensuality intensifies when a mysterious, 18-year-old musician wanders into town and is invited to stay. Suzanne’s solitary nighttime practice sessions on Corcoran’s only piano drift into open windows throughout town like lullabies. Feeling “emotionally retarded,” Glen distrusts her beauty and kindness. But her performances make him want to turn off the lights, “go to bed earlier,” and listen.
An enchanting love story on many levels, IN THE SHADOW OF WAR also boasts strong characters, dialogue, pacing, and setting, as well as its valuable perspective on America’s chilly response to returning Vietnam War vets.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader