Top critical review
Two stories sit uncomfortably together.
7 April 2016
This is really two stories in one and I am not sure the two sit very comfortably together.
On the one hand we have the quite engaging story of Chris, from his childhood through adolescence, adulthood and into retirement. There was much to enjoy here. The writer describes progress in terms of culture and technology with a light hand, even speculating as to what gadgets might be available in the 2020s and beyond. These things informed the story rather than being allowed to drag it down. The exception to this was the rather detailed descriptions of camera equipment, clearly rather a hobby horse with the author; here less would have been much more.
The central conceit of the book is Chris’ search for his biological parents, particularly his father. Discovering at an early age and by accident that he is adopted, Chris struggles to come to terms with what this means in terms of his own place in the family and his relationship with his adoptive parents Irene and Ted. Naturally the time comes when he decides to seek out his biological parents. I’d have liked Chris to invest far more in his need for an alternative father figure to Ted. Ted is a reasonably nice though not fully developed character; greater antipathy between the two, perhaps, or some decidedly unpleasant traits might have helped build Jimmy up as a desirable alternative. But as the title suggests, the man Chris eventually tracks down turns out not to be the man he had imagined. Because the build-up of his ‘hero’ role model and Chris’ deep-seated need for him had not been thoroughly developed, the disappointment failed to have much impact.
In the middle of this story sits a mini historical investigation into the life and reputation of General Patton, seemingly the most respected US military leader as well as the most reviled man of the second world war. Another obvious enthusiasm of the writer (the bibliography reveals extensive reading on the topic), it is shoe-horned in like the glass slipper onto the foot of the ugly sister, sitting very uncomfortably, tenuously connected and not really resolved.
In the end I found that neither Jimmy, General Patton or even Chris himself had really been convincingly cast as any kind of heroes and therefore their fall didn’t entirely resonate.