In J. Russell Smith’s novel Longworth, a young man comes of age during the cultural and political turbulence of the ’60s and early ’70s and begins to question his life as a Marine.
Carson Longworth is a smart, charismatic, fun-loving individual who lacks direction. Enlisting in the Marines, he finds that discipline and camaraderie change his life. However, as he goes from basic training to Officer Candidate School and ultimately rises as an ace helicopter pilot, Carson becomes disillusioned by his participation in the Vietnam War. Eventually, he re-enters civilian life to study, teach, and lecture, with his Vietnam experience shaping his ever-questioning outlook on the world until tragedy befalls him.
Smith provides a finely detailed perspective of military life during the height of the Vietnam War. And while Carson often sees himself as a solitary individual, the author shows him developing interesting life-long bonds with fellow Marines and engaging in a long-distance romance with a young woman who often has him questioning his own future and intentions.
While rich with potential, however, the story suffers several flaws. Smith’s tendency to first tell, then show what occurs makes the story repetitive, as does the recurring phrase “as has been mentioned,” which merely reminds readers of information already revealed.
The prose is wordy and rife with exposition, much of which takes readers out of the setting and delivers a modern perspective, as in: “One of the reasons why there was so much friction between generations was because of the nearly universal and unconditional support for World War II. The mothers and fathers of the Vietnam generation simply could not understand why their progeny would question the US involvement in anything.”
The dialogue is often stilted, and the story’s rather straightforward trajectory lacks compelling tension.
Those with an interest in the Vietnam conflict might find the historical detail offered here interesting. But readers seeking an absorbing novel will likely find themselves frustrated by the over-worked narration.
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