Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson

Apparently Matheson was drafted and entered World War II in the European theater in 1944. This story is largely an autobiohraphical bit mixed with a high adventure story. If anything, it seems too... happy. It is also the most straightforward novel about WWII I've ever read. Comparisons to Norman Mailer's 'The Naked and the Dead' and Remerque's "All Quiet On the Western Front" and Slaughterhouse Five and Catch-22 are inevitable. Matheson's novel has none of the cynicism of Heller, none of the post-modern stylings of Vonnegut. He gives a very personal play-by-play account of a young man's introduction to an infantry squad and the ten days that follow. The action seqeunces (which comprise at least 80% of the book) are well narrated. It is no wonder that Matheson is such a hollywood favorite; his descriptions of physical spaces, characteristics, and stage direction are precise. The emotional depth in his characters is no deeper than the puddles gathering outside on First street. From the gruff sarge with the heart of gold (the cliche-ness of which one of his characters even comments on) to the numb protaganist, these characters are almost all stock.

If all this sounds like I didn't enjoy this book, I've given the wrong impression. It is an exciting account of an infantry unit whose members learn to work together to overcome the horrors of war. It reads like a John Wayne movie, or an episode of Band of Brothers. Yes, it's a little bit obvious and makes you feel a bit guilty, but it's still damn entertaining and well executed.