The War Lover, John Hersey, Alfred A Knopf, 1959, 404 pp
The trouble with John Hersey is that he always has an agenda in his novels. Plenty of authors who write fiction have an agenda, in fact many of my favorite ones do, but the trick is to embed it so the reader figures it out herself, not to bludgeon us over the head with it.
So The War Lover is clearly anti-war and also carries a large dose of Freudian thinking. Buzz Marrow is an ace pilot, an American flying out of a base in England during WWII. He is a jerk in his personal life who brags about his female conquests every chance he gets. Except when he is flying a bombing mission, he is chronically in a bad mood, drinks heavily, and generally belittles both his superiors and his crew.
Bowman, his co-pilot, tells the story of his initial hero worship for Buzz and its gradual disillusionment as his flying team approaches their final mission. The missions in those months prior to D-Day were so dangerous and nerve wracking that once 25 missions had been accomplished, the pilots and crew were reassigned to something less intense.
Finally there is Boman's English girlfriend Daphne, a combination of English wartime resignation and perfect, understanding, sexy goddess. When Boman isn't stressing out about the next mission, he is driving himself batty over whether or not Daphne is also sleeping with Buzz.
The story has tension by the bucket load. Hersey is actually quite a good writer. But due to the chapters that alternate between a countdown of the final mission and the back story, I was never really sure what time it was. By the end, I didn't care.
The point of all this? Men like Buzz, who love war get off on annihilation more than they do on sex, are in fact impotent, and have a death wish. I guess if the human race were rid of such types, we wouldn't have war? Sorry, Mr Hersey, I don't think it is quite that simple.
(The War Lover is out of print. I found a copy in my local library. It is also available from used book sellers.)