Monthly Archives: May 2013

Benediction by Kent Haruf

book cover

Kent Haruf takes his time. His first novel, The Ties That Bind, was published in 1984, winning a Whiting Foundation Award and a Hemingway Foundation/PEN citation. His second novel, Where You Once Belonged was published in 1990. Plainsong, which became a best-seller and was a National Book Award finalist, was published in 1999. It’s sequel, Eventide, was published in 2004. Nine years later we have Haruf’s fifth novel, Benediction. All his novels are set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, (a stand-in for Yuma where Haruf once lived) nearer to Kansas and Nebraska than to that suspect center of the scary urban, Denver. Benediction is not a sequel, but a stand-alone, although there are a few nods to characters from prior tales. All Haruf’s novels are top-notch, written at a very high plane of craft, observation and insight, and Benediction fits in very nicely with his existing, outstanding body of work.

Kent Haruf – Illustration by Jason Seller – image from the magazine 5280

Dad Lewis gets the bad news straight away, cancer, terminal. Get your affairs in order. Over the remaining few months of his life Dad (we never learn his proper first name) does just that. We visit with him as he tries to come to terms with his life, recalling how he came to be on his own as a teen, how he met the love of his life, how he treated those around him, his son, daughter, employees, neighbors. This being a Kent Haruf novel, it takes a village to tell a tale. Eight-year-old Alice has arrived next door, at her grandmother’s, her father long gone and her mother recently deceased. How the people of Holt cope with her presence will feel very familiar for return readers of Haruf’s work, but still both startling in some of the details and incredibly moving in its execution. Reverend Lyle, late of Denver, makes the crucial mistake of actually preaching the gospel, not what most of the parishioners want to hear. His wife and son wish he would keep such things to himself. Haruf was the son of a minister, and his depiction of the politics of town religious institutions has the ring of seen rather than revealed truth. There is an older mother-daughter pair who figure into the story, most particularly in a wonderful scene that is simultaneously baptismal and pagan, and a few more characters who matter beside. There are no saints here, no demons. (well, ok, a few very minor characters are purely awful) Forgiveness is a major element for many of the relationships here. It is tougher to create an image with fine lines than to paint with broad strokes. Haruf takes his time and makes his characters breathe.

All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? Holt apparently. There is enough quiet desperation in Holt that I was reminded at times of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Love does not seem to last often enough, but there are some exceptions that keep hope alive. We are invited to look at relationships between parents and children, between present, past, potential and real lovers, and between people and the places in which they live. Communities definitely affect one’s options, for good and ill.

One might wonder how the author goes about constructing his novels. Fortunately he has told us

When I think of a story, I always begin with the characters. I daydream and brood and imagine that character for nearly a year and, of course, they all have to have problems, so I think about their problems. Then I begin to imagine and daydream about the people that would be in their lives, and their problems. It’s my biggest effort to figure out how to bring them together in a way that would move the story forward — not necessarily predictably but certainly inevitably.

The atmospherics of Holt figure significantly in how we are handled as readers. After Dad gets the news and returns home, the sun is down. An assault is accompanied by rain. A parent hitting a child is lit by The wind cried and whistled in the leafless trees. During a significant sermon, The sanctuary was hot. The windows were open but it was a hot day and hot inside. It gets hotter and you get the idea. The use of weather throughout is ever-present, but tempered, never intrusive, there to add a highlight, reinforce a mood, never to direct traffic. Characters relate a fair bit around food as well, feeding each other or not. The flatness of the terrain adds exposure. …on the plains, everything is visible, nothing is isolated. That appeals to me a great deal, these people being so visible, as if they’re seen in a spotlight. There is a scene that grabbed me, in which a character is walking the town at night and is stopped by the police:

Is there something wrong with you? What are you doing out here?
I’m just walking. Having a look around town.
Your family knows where you are?
They know I’m taking a walk.
It doesn’t bother you to look in other people’s houses? You think that’s all right.
I don’t think I’m doing any harm. I didn’t mean to.
Well, these people don’t like it. This man called you in.
What did he say?
That you were looking in his house.
Did he say what he was doing in his house?
Why would he say that?
People in their houses at night. These ordinary lives. Passing without their knowing. I’d hoped to recapture something.
The officer stared at him.
The precious ordinary.
I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you’d better keep moving.
I thought I’d see people being hurtful. Cruel. A man hitting his wife. But I haven’t seen that. Maybe all that’s behind the curtains. If you’re going to hit somebody maybe you pull the curtain first.
Not necessarily.
What I’ve seen is the sweet kindness of one person to another. Just time passing on a summer’s night. This ordinary life.

That passage seems to epitomize the writing and sensibility of Kent Haruf. His literary doppelganger, wandering through a town of people, seeing decency and finding meaning and joy in “this ordinary life.” It’s not hard to say something nice about Benediction. Haruf writes of real human concerns, real human problems, engagingly and effectively. You will come to care about someone in Haruf’s Holt, maybe more than one someone. Take your time with this one. Read it slowly. As we have come to expect, whenever Kent Haruf produces a new book, it is always a blessing.

======================================EXTRA STUFF
I found many interviews with the author, and have included links to a few here, in case you get the urge. The author quotes I used are from the first one listed.

Benediction was chosen as the #1 Indie Next List Pick for March 2013. Here is the interview from Bookselling This Week, a publication of the American Bookseller’s Association, by Elizabeth Knapp

From Telluride Inside and Out – interview by Mark Stephens

This Barnes and Noble profile was written by Christina Nunez

This interview is from November 2012, in Publishers Weekly on-line, by Claire Kirch

P.S. – I suspect that Kent Haruf has a secret first name, Clark.

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Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

book coverI guarantee that when you reach the end of this novel the sound you hear will be coming from your own mouth, “Awwwwwwwwww.”

The last book I read and reviewed was David Vann’s magnificent Goat Mountain. Outstanding stuff, heavy with content, violent, dark. Someone Else’s Love Story, while not the opposite, is certainly worlds away. An antidote. Maybe chicken feathers for the soul.

The book opens with a poem by Emily Dickenson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

Keep it in mind. But back to beginnings. Consider the first actual paragraph

I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K. It was on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had been boiled red. We were both staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun could.

Hooked yet? I was. And glad of it.

Joshilyn Jackson

Shandi is 21, the mother of Natty, a precocious three-year-old. Her bff, Walcott, is helping her move to an apartment her father keeps in Atlanta. She is a familiar sort, a good-hearted everygal of a single mother, except stuck between her long-divorced and still contentious Jewish father (remarried with three more kids) and Christian, still-single, bitter mother. Stopping en route at a convenience store, her journey is interrupted when a gunman holds the place up, shooting a cop and taking those present hostage. Good thing there is a hulk of a guy there, football-player heft, and with brains to boot, a godlike hero who makes sure neither Shandi nor Natty come to harm.

Of course William Ashe has issues of his own, and maybe he has other reasons for risking taking a bullet than solely to protect a damsel and child in distress. Maybe he is choosing his own destiny, on the anniversary of a terrible event in his life.

Destiny does figure large in this story, and it is the consideration of this and other underlying concerns that gives the book greater heft than if it were a simple rom-com. Religion figures as well. It is no accident that Jackson, for example, uses “ungodly hot” in her opening paragraph. It could just as easily have been unbearably or unspeakably. There is a wide range of content here that relates to god. There is a virgin birth, no, really, a resurrection, miracles of one sort and another, sacrifice, concern with mythological beings like Norse gods and animated anthropomorphic creatures from Jewish legend. The book also looks at love, not just between the plus and minus poles of human magnetism, but between humans and god, between friends, between parents and children.

There are some things you will want to note as they pop up in the book. Birdhouses, birds and feathers flutter into view from time to time. I just bet they stand for something. Flowers and flower beds receive similar treatment, always raising Eden-ic possibilities. Ditto fireworks of one kind and another as an expression of love.

There is an investigation here of a back-story crime. It is handled with considerable nuance and maturity. Doubtless, there will be some who take offense at how this is treated. I thought it was excellently done. There is also a jaw-dropping (and wonderful) twist late in the book.

I was reminded very much of the feel of Silver Linings Playbook. Shandi, (can Jennifer Lawrence play her, pleeeeeease) William, and Walcott will win your heart. These are lovely characters, people worth caring about, facing difficult decisions and looking at core elements of life. Someone Else’s Love Story is about all sorts of love stories. It is about doing the right thing and struggling to figure out what that actually is. And it is lovingly and beautifully told. One right thing you can do is read this book. It may not be a religious experience for you, but I guarantee that it will be uplifting and leave your spirit feeling light as a feather. This is a lovely, charming book.

PS – I really hope they keep the cover art that is on the ARE I read. The image of birds, along with a few bursts of fireworks, is nothing short of perfect.

posted 5/17/13

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Goat Mountain by David Vann

Goat Mountain is due out September 2013

Drama is a description of what is bad inside of us and the end point of that is hell, a description of a hellish landscape.

This is what David Vann had to say in an interview with GR pal Lou Pendergast. (A link to the full interview is in the LINKS section at the bottom of this review) It will come as no shock then that in his latest novel he presents us with a hellscape, and we see that some of the bad is not content to remain cooped up. In fact David Vann’s Goat Mountain is like Deliverance (without the sex) mated with The Golden Bough, as directed by Terence Malick.

Northern California. Rural. 1978. On several acres owned by their family for many years. A grandfather, father and eleven-year-old boy, accompanied by the father’s friend, Tom (his is the only name we learn), have come for an annual deer hunt. This is to be the boy’s first chance to kill a buck. They spot a poacher on a hill. Sight him through their scopes. Encouraged to look through the scope of dad’s rifle, the boy takes a careful sighting, then squeezes the trigger, instantly killing the unsuspecting man. What are the rules? Should the boy be turned in to the authorities? Should he himself be killed as an unfeeling abomination? Should the deed be covered up? Do they just walk away? Contending with this issue is the motive force in the story. But it is not the only thing going on here.

An idea is the worst thing that could happen to a writer, and as I’ve written these other books I’ve tried actually to not to know where I’m going. I think my ideas are very small and close the story off, instead I try to just focus on the landscape and the character with the problem and just find out what happens.

And yet some ideas manage to find their way in to this work. It is a good thing he eschewed this advice in favor of a bit of wisdom he received from a very accomplished writer.

I had a class with Grace Paley, and she said that every good story is at least two stories. And to me that’s the one unbreakable rule in writing – the only one. That if you just have an account of something, and it’s just an account – like in most people’s journals or blogs or whatever – it’s just sh*t. Like it will never work. I can’t think of a single good work ever that was just one thing – that was just an account of something. What we read for as readers is that second story – the subtext – and the interest of what story will come out from behind the other one. And so you can’t break that rule, as far as I can tell. I’ve never seen it done.

So what else is in here beyond the dramatic tension of a family trying to figure out what to do with their young murderer?

All of my books are about religion and our need for religion…I started as a religious studies major actually. One thing that links all of my works…is how philosophy can lead to brutality

Religion it is, but not just religion, human nature. Our narrator ponders whether killing is in our DNA.

We think of Cain as the one who killed his brother, but who else was around to kill? They were the first two born. Cain killed what was available. The story has nothing to do with brothers.

And later:

What we wanted was to run like this, to chase our prey. That was the point. What made us run was the joy and promise of killing.

The story is told mostly as an internal monologue by the boy, as both child and man. While we encounter him as an eleven year old boy, his story is related to us by the adult he will become. Positing a guess that the narrator is speaking from 2012, that makes the narrator 45 or so, just about the author’s age. And yes, Vann is familiar with hunting. I didn’t feel what I was supposed to feel. I killed my first deer when I was eleven and I started missing them after that.

Religion here considers the pre-historical

The first thing to distinguish man…there’s not much we can do that is older and more human than sitting at a fire. ..It’s only in fire or water that we can find a corollary to felt mystery, a face to who we might be. But fire is the core immediate. In fire we never feel alone. Fire is our first god.

In the atavistic is there relief from civilization? Vann offers a contemplation of human nature, through the eyes of a monster who feels more connection with ancient hunter-gatherers than he does with any living human.

I wish now I could have slept under hides. I wish now I could have gone all the way back, because if we can go far enough back, we cannot be held accountable.

Is the unfeeling boy really a monster, merely immature, or the core of what it is to be human?
David Vann and his father in Alaska
This image of Vann and his father was taken from The Guardian

The bible references here lean toward the Old Testament, and they are abundant. For those who, like me, enjoy trawling for literary references it might be wise to heed Chief Brody’s advice to Quint, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Cain comes in for frequent mention. I noted his name nine times, but there may be more. There is a host of further biblical references, including one in which the boy endures his own Calvary-like hike. Edenic references abound. When we read I slithered my way up that steep canyon, my belly in the dirt, and I refused to be left behind, we might be reminded of Genesis 3:14:

Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.

There is a look at Jesus as being guilty of muddying the lines between life and death, the Ten Commandments as being directed against inherent human instinct, and the Eucharist as a way of remaining connected with our bestial nature. Consideration is given to the existence of the devil, and whether we need for there to be some dark agent in charge, anything in charge, because the existential chaos of being is beyond our ability to cope. What are the rules? Who made them and why? And what happens, what should happen, when we break them? There are also parts that reminded me of Dante’s Inferno, as the boy consumes some particularly sulphurous water early on and the group has to pass through a daunting metal gate to enter the place in which the story takes place, among other clues.

This is a book that reaches a grasping claw into your stomach and shakes your guts around before yanking them out. Definitely not a book for those who are uncomfortable with the dark, the violent or the sad. But even with all the brimstone challenging your nostrils, you cannot help but detect the aroma of power and substance in Vann’s harsh new novel. Once you calm down from the brutality of the story you will long consider the subjects it raises.


David Vann very graciously took some time during a whirlwind book tour to answer some questions about Goat Mountain

W – There is a lot in Goat Mountain about the primitive, atavistic drives in human nature. When the boy thinks “Some part in me just wanted to kill, constantly and without end” was he expressing some primitive element within the human character, his personal pathology or something else?

I think it’s both. The book shows a descent that one particular mind takes (as in my novel Dirt, also, and my nonfiction book about a school shooting, Last Day On Earth) but I’m also trying to find shadows of something human and not just peculiar to an individual.

W – How much of what the boy considers, particularly as it relates to a compulsion to kill, reflects your view of human nature (Do you think we are killers by nature?) or was the boy making excuses for his aberrant urges?

I honestly can’t answer any of the big questions about human nature or even individuals. I wrote about my father’s suicide for ten years and yet his final moment still remains mysterious to me. With the school shooter, also, I could put together a narrative that made his final act possible but not inevitable. At the last moment, he and my father could have chosen differently. So I don’t think we’re determined. I think we can kill or not kill, and that many factors push us toward or away. In my fiction, everything is limited to a character’s view always, but I also have basically had or can imagine having all the thoughts and feelings of all my characters, in that they feel possible and believable to me.

W – In an interview you said your books are about “how philosophy can lead to brutality.” But the boy in Goat Mountain appears to have the brutality in him inherently. Can it be that brutality leads to philosophy?

That quote was specifically about Dirt, about the dangers of the New Age movement. But it’s an interesting question, whether brutality is so abhorrent it always has to be covered in philosophy in order for the perpetrators to be able to go on telling the story of themselves. You’re right that the narrator thinks he had an inherent brutality as a boy, or perhaps it was the culture he grew up in (he says children will find whatever they’re born into natural). He’s disturbed by the fact that he didn’t feel bad after first killing, but then this changes with the buck and after that he no longer wants to kill, and he becomes fully human when he kills without wanting to. That’s what I find really disturbing about human killing, when it’s divorced from instinct and becomes abstract and we kill for philosophy or religion or politics or calculated risk.

W – There are several references to a time before god. For example “grandfather did not come from god. I’m sure of that. He came from something older” and “The darkness a great muscle tightening, filled with blood, a living thing already before god came to do his work” and “The act of killing might even be the act that creates god.” The contemporary view of the Hebrew and Christian god is that there was no existence prior. If the boy believes in god how could he believe that there was a time before god?

There has to have been a time before god, because we made him, and it was quite a while before we came up with the idea of making gods. And antimatter is interesting as a concept, because it makes possible the existence of something before anything, the existence of what pulls existence into being. That’s what the grandfather in the book becomes, the thing that makes matter possible. That’s the closest I can imagine to god. Putting a face on god is as stupid as imagining aliens with a head and two arms and two legs. Our images of god are all simplistic like that, too dumb to be able to believe now. I began as a religious studies major and moved on to fiction, which investigates mystery more honestly.

W – Did you have Dante’s Inferno in mind while writing Goat Mountain? If so, were the obstructions the four face getting into their land an echo of the challenges Dante and Virgil face entering the Inferno?

D – I have always wanted to write an inferno, since it’s the natural goal or end of tragedy, as you’ve quoted from me before, and I like Dante’s depiction and also the Venerable Bede’s and Blake’s and McCarthy’s, and there are always obstructions to entering and time it takes to recognize. The inferno is an externalization of a felt landscape within, the shape of our human badness, and the characters have to be put under pressure for a while before they can start to see a mirroring in the landscape. So the book becomes increasingly hellish, as Dirt did. It’s really only in the final section of the novel, when they reach the burn (an area that had had a fire recently), that the architecture of their hell is more fully realized. So they don’t enter gates really but are steadily building.

W – If Goat Mountain completes a holy trinity for you, will you be continuing with religion as a major focus in your next book? What is your next project?

My next novel, which is finished, is titled Bright Air Black and is the story of Medea, set 3,250 years ago, trying to stay close to the archaeological record. It attempts to be a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of her as a destroyer of kings who wants a world not ruled by men. I’ve been wanting to write something about her for 25 years, and I’m fascinated by the time period because it’s the time the Greeks imagine as the beginning and therefore can be considered the beginning of western culture and literature, but it’s actually the end of an older world, the fall of the bronze age and Hittite empire and decline of the Egyptians. Medea worships Hecate and also Nute, an Egyptian goddess, so there’s a continuity with focus on gods and landscape. But Goat Mountain is the end of my books that have family stories and places in the background.

W – Are there any plans afoot for films to be made of any of your books?

I’ve co-written the screenplay for Caribou Island with two-time academy award-winning director Bill Guttentag, and we’re trying now to raise funding for the film. And the French producers Haut Et Court (producers of Coco Avant Chanel and The Class) and French-Canadian director Daniel Grau will be making a film from Sukkwan Island, the novella in Legend of a Suicide.

W – You said in an interview with the Australian Writers Centre:
…what I teach my students is how to read, how to be better readers, and the importance of studying language and literature. And, I use a linguistics approach for talking about style, very specifically talking about what individual sentences do, writing a grammar for a text.
Have you ever considered putting your teaching ideas into a book?

I have thought about that, because I can’t find a textbook that does what I’d want it to do, but I’m focused for now on writing novels.

W – What books have you read in the last year that you would recommend?

I’ve been reading a lot of books, about a book per week, and my favorite this year was John L’Heureux’s new novel The Medici Boy. A great portrait of an artist, an historical thriller, and a depiction of the persecution of gay men in 15th century Florence, it’s a rich masterpiece that I recommend to everyone.

W – What do you do for fun?

Right now I’m on a six-week residency in Amsterdam with the Dutch Lit Foundation, and my wife and I are going to music and museums and restaurants and walking all around the city. Amsterdam is wonderful. We live half the year in New Zealand, where I do watersports almost every day (waterskiing, wakeboarding, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking) or mountain-biking or hiking. And we sail on the Turkish coast each summer. I also play congas and a bit of guitar and I like tequilas and rums.

Thanks, David, for your time and fascinating insights.
Scheduled release date is September 10, 2013


Vann’s earlier novel, Caribou Island was my favorite book of 2011. And his 2008 Legend of a Suicide is compelling reading as well.

Lou Pendergrast’s interview with DV
(Source for “All my books are about religion” quote)

The author’s website – among other things there is a large list of interviews

And his GR page

The Family History Is Grim, but He’s Plotted a New Course – NY Times article on Vann from 2011
(Source for “an idea is the worst thing… quote)

University of Gloucestershire Creative Writing Blog interview with DV from October 10, 2011
(Source for Vann’s mention of Grace Paley)

The White Review with Melissa Cox (online only)
(Source of the “I didn’t feel what I was supposed to feel” quote)

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Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

book coverWinter is coming.

Mitchell Zuckoff seems to be making a habit of looking into the travails of crash victims. His prior book, Lost in Shangri-la , followed three survivors of a WW II era plane crash in New Guinea. They faced the usual sorts of dangers, a step back to the Paleolithic, and a diverse assortment of possible ways to die; cannibals, elements of an enemy army, all sorts of predatory and/or poisonous critters, microscopic invaders that could ruin your day, and help see that it is your last. The whole world was watching and cheering for their safe return.

Reversing his orientation a bit this time Zuckoff, in his latest WW II opus, Frozen in Time, has substituted brutal cold, and a particularly unwelcoming landscape for those other hazards. I’ll take the cannibals every time. (with a nice Chianti) In this instance, the whole world was unaware of the events until well after they had come to a conclusion. Upping his game, Zuckoff deals not with a single crash, but with several, in a cascade.

Mitchell Zuckoff – image from the author’s site

I suggest that if you have a choice between death by the fire of a predatory jungle or the ice of an arctic wasteland, you would do well to choose the former. You’d have a better chance of making it. At least you would not have to worry so much that the ground on which you were standing might open up and swallow you whole, that you might lose body parts to the relentless cold of Arctic winter, that you might lose your mind waiting to be brought home, while blizzard-driven snow seeps into your shelter. And of course there is always the danger of becoming a GI-sicle for a prowling polar bear. There are survivors of this experience who lived through 148 days worth of cold days in hell.

Douglas : C-53 : Skytrooper

There is a saying that bad things come in threes. It might have been nice if that had been the case in Greenland, in 1942. Greenland seems to have the same effect on powered vehicles as the Bermuda Triangle. There were at least a dozen crashes there in 1942. The trouble under scrutiny here began on November 5, when a military cargo plane, a C-53 Skytrooper, [above] the equivalent of a civilian DC-3 airliner, was returning to its base from Reykjavik after a “milk run” delivery of war materials. It was carrying a crew of five.

Shortly after the plane reached the southeast cost of Greenland, a location that defined the edge of nowhere, disaster struck: …the Skytrooper went down on the ice cap. By some accounts, the crash occurred when one of the plane’s two engines failed, but other reports were silent on why the C-53 experienced what the military called a “forced landing.” The official crash report declared the cause “unknown and no reason given in radio contacts.” A handwritten notation added, “100 percent undetermined.”

The air over Greenland was a busy locale in those days, with dozens of flights transporting men and materials to the war every day, then returning home to do it again. But Greenland is the largest non-continental island on Planet Earth so, even with a lot of planes searching, locating a downed aircraft was no simple task. Here are some comparisons:

California – 163,696 sq miles
Texas – 268,820 sq miles
Alaska – 663,696 sq miles
Greenland – 836,302 sq miles

In other words, big frackin’ haystack.

On November 9 a B17F, a “Flying Fortress” redirected from its mission in Germany to participate in the search, ran into trouble

When they reached the end of Koge Bay fjord, [the crew] saw that everything outside was the same frightening shade of whitish gray. They couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the ice cap began…When the true horizon disappears in the Arctic haze, a pilot might as well be blind. Pilots fortunate enough to survive the phenomenon describe the experience as “flying in milk.”

It did not end well, and nine more servicemen were unwillingly grounded.

On November 29th, desperate to evacuate members of crews what had been stranded in an arctic wasteland for weeks, a pontooned Grumman seaplane know as a Duck, assigned to the Coast Guard ship Northland was making a second daring run, having already rescued some survivors.
It went back for more. But a storm blew in before the Duck could make it back to its base. The pilot was flying blind. The plane crashed into the ice. This is an image of the very plane, taking off. Not a lucky ducky.

image shows on my blog, see bottom

There is more, but these are the big three bits of awfulness of this tale.

Frozen in Time tells the stories of how the crash survivors fared, how the rescue operations were planned and how those worked out, or didn’t. These stories are both fascinating and chilling. There are many examples told of MacGyver-like creativity on the ground among the crash-ees, among the rescue teams and, decades later, in an expedition looking to bring ’em home. This last is a parallel tale that is given much less than half the book. Not all the men and not all the planes made it back in 1942. The author becomes involved with people who are looking to find and repatriate the remains of the crash victims who did not survive. There are a lot of personalities in play here and a fair bit of politicking. It is not as interesting as the core survival tale, but it is informative. A recovery mission does indeed take place, in 2012, and the author is a full participant in that.

It’s tough enough finding a 60+ year old wreck that stands still, (not counting myself) but in Greenland the ice sheet is a very large moving target. Drop a flag on point A and when you return it could be at Points E, Q or X. And then there is the accumulation of more than half a century’s worth of compacted snow.

Imagine searching for a diamond chip buried deep beneath a frozen football field; your best tool is a straw what makes tiny holes into the ground, through which you peer down to see what’s below; if your holes miss by even a little, you’ll miss it; and you have a brief window to explore ten potential locations before being kicked off the field.

The story of the attempt at recovering remains is certainly interesting. It is no surprise that there are sundry parties at Department of Defense meetings who offer a chilly reception to the contractor who was looking to undertake the mission. We get to be a fly on the wall for a few of these.

But the meat of the story is the tales of survival, how these men (all the crash-ees were men) contended with such a hostile environment, what they did to create livable living spaces, how they coped with hunger, as well as cold, and fear. Some fared better than others. It is a bit frightening to learn that a plane landing on a glacier is in danger of getting frozen to it, like a warm tongue to a frozen pipe. There are uplifting items as well in this dark tale. You will learn about the “Short Snorters Club,” if you are not already a member, and the purpose of a Snublebus. You will also expand your vocabulary a tad with some arctic terms.

You will learn as well, about the dedication of the military to bringing home every reachable service member, and about some of the after-effects of the stranding experience on those who made it out.

Spencer’s family knew him as warm and funny, and they’d remember him as a man who bought toilet paper in bulk long before warehouse stores. When his younger daughter Carol Sue asked why, Spencer explained: “I have been without toilet paper,” he told her, “and I am never going to be without toilet paper again.”

Not Scarlett O’Hara perhaps, but a telling indication of the permanence of the crash experience on the survivors. Many found themselves with increased susceptibility to cold. Not everyone had the luxury of such discomfort. One poor bastard survived a crash in the B-17 only to succumb to another as he was being flown away from the bomber in a rescue plane.

There are several crews to keep track of and I think it would have been useful for there to have been a section listing them by vehicle, rather than, or in addition to the straight alphabetic list provided in an appendix. That said, the volume I read was an ARE so there may be a difference or two between what I saw and what is in the final hardcover edition. Just in case it is not provided there,here is the crew list by craft.

Captain Homer McDowell, Jr
Lieutenant William Springer – co-pilot
Staff Sergeant Eugene Manahan
Corporal William Everett
Private Thurman Johannessen

A brand new B17F – radio sign PN9E
Pilot – Lt. Armand Monteverde
Co-pilot – Lt. Harry Spencer
Navigator – Lt William “Bill” O’Hara
Engineer – Private Paul Spina
Asst Engineer – Private Alexander “Al” Tucciarone
Radio Operator – Corporal Loren “Lolly” Howorth
Mechanic – Private Clarence Wedel 35,
Tech Sergeant Alfred “Clint” Best and
Staff Sergeant Lloyd Woody Puryear

The Grumman J2F-4, aka the Duck
John Pritchard
Benjamin Bottoms
Corporal Loren “Lolly” Howorth

You are on your own keeping track of other planes, ships and ground-based rescue teams that come into play in this story.

If you liked Lost in Shangri-La, it is a good bet you will find it worth the effort to search for a copy of Frozen in Time and bring it home. Read it in a warm place.

========================================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s web page

The author’s FB page for this book

Harper Collins promo video

Video of the downhole camera. (2012) Uncomfortably similar to a medical scoping

A Coast Guard page on an earlier attempt to locate the Duck

North South Polar – Lou’s site

List of crashes – 1942-44

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