Thursday, November 03, 2005


Guard of Honor, James Gould Cozzens, 1949, 631 pp.

With this book, I completed the novels for 1949. It won the Pulitzer Prize that year and took forever to read. I had never heard of it before and that may be because it is highly dated. It concerns only three days on a base of the American Army Air Force in Ocarana, Florida, during World War II. At that time, the Air Force was not yet a separate branch of the military and much of the might of air power was being developed as World War II was fought.

In the three days which the story covers, everything that could go wrong does. In addition, much of the trouble has racism at its root. There is a cast of at least 20 characters and about 10 main characters, so Cozzens uses the circumstances as a frame on which to do character studies of these numerous men and women. The women include WACS and officers' wives. He also throws in a sort of philosophy of war and army life.

So much goes wrong by the second day that I expected a big tragic ending. Instead, it all simmers down and gets approximately sorted out so that you understand that life will go on. Well, I suppose that could be a motto of war and army life.

Generally it was all "good" writing in a combination of English class and newspaper writing training. I found it much too wordy, somewhat pedantic and never fully gripping or exciting. The ending was unforgivable after 550 pages of build-up. I can surely see why we needed a Hemingway to come along.

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