December 6, 1999

Under Fire

Under Fire
W.E. B. Grifiin


(December 6, 1999)

Griffin is my guilty secret. This is the latest installment of The Corps, a sprawling history of a cadre of US Marines that begins shortly before Pearl Harbor and that now reaches Korea. These books are marketed as "men's fiction" and claim to have lots of combat action; in fact, they have almost none, and most of what combat there is happens offstage. (O'Brian does this too, to equally fine effect) This is the story of men who fight (for the most part) sitting down -- from a desk, from a cockpit, from a training depot or a service facility. Most of their enemies wear the same uniform.

Griffin has a lovely touch for capturing a time and place, and he manages to regard the recent past fondly. The Corps is closer to Tales of the South Pacific than to The Naked and The Dead. The closest parallel, perhaps, is Wouk's War and Remembrance, but Griffin has better focus. (Fussell, in The Boy Scout's Handbook, has a memorable essay on the importance of the historical narrative as the genre of the times, with Wouk's career as the central example of the damaging effects of misplaced reverence for the supposed mainstream.)

Michener, Mailer, Wouk: this isn't bad company.