Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
One of the great American war novels
on 29 April 2012
Maybe not "the best war novel ever," which is what has been said of this work, but undeniably up there with the greats. Mailer is educated, perceptive and articulate: he has something to say and does not pull his punches. The book may have been superseded in its portrayal of war as a very nasty business, but in this respect it was a pioneering work, and otherwise it very much stands the test of time. Part of its originality, and of its value today, lies in the evocation of the political, social and economic atmosphere of the 30's and 40's, using biographical vignettes of the principal characters; part of it is comprised in the detailing of the day-to-day management of war. The worldview of General Cummings evokes that of certain elements of the time, and counterpoints Lt Hearn's existential querulousness. Mailer manages with similar skill to convey the more elemental thinking and preoccupations of enlisted men, but here - for me at least - he errs in two respects: an apparent preoccupation with Jewishness (even if partly 'balanced' by Catholic references); and an unadulterated cynicism regarding human nature, verging on the nihilistic. These are however minor criticisms: indeed the first may be excused as echoing one of the key themes of the epoch, and the second may also mark time and place. There is much more one could say, especially about the ending, but that might spoil things - suffice to say that it is preceded by masterful piece of sustained writing which kept me up until the wee hours. The overall result remains one of the great American reads - especially if you like war stories. Enjoy.