The fireball tomorrow
May 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
This is an oddly old fashioned book. If it were a film, it would be in Technicolor, or even black and white, with James Stewart in the lead role.
It’s none the worse for that – in fact the pitch of the story is perfect for the subject: the experiences of a group of American fliers in the Far East during the Second World War. The narrative loops back to visit the hero’s mid-western childhood and zooms forward to describe his return to the Solomon Islands in the late 1940s, but its heart is in the air over the Pacific.
Hietala is impressively expert on the technology and tactics of aerial warfare and he does not back away from its consequences. Characters die horribly; a few survive even more horribly. None of them escape without emotional scarring.
It is this which is the real subject of the novel: how to manage life and attachments when everything could end in a fireball tomorrow. Hietala finds a clever metaphor for the airmen’s refusal to contemplate the future in his hero’s fear of photographs: Jack knows that if he looks at one, he will see the shadows of the friends who are about to die. Sensibly, the author does not take the idea too far – this is not a novel of the occult – but it casts its own fatalistic shadow over much of the story.
This is a man’s book, which probably contributes to its old-fashioned atmosphere. There are two intertwined love stories, but the questions it asks are about how to behave under fire – and there are many kinds of fire to be endured.
Definitely a James Stewart film. John Wayne could do action, but it took James Stewart to convey the darkness and hurt that comes after.