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France, 1916. The Great War. High above the carnage in the trenches, British and German aces joust like knights of old for control of the skies. The strain and tension of living every day on the edge of death leads to dangerous choices and wild risks. When British ace Bat Bryant’s past catches up with him, he strikes out in panic and kills the man threatening him with exposure. But there’s a witness: the big, handsome American pilot Cowboy Cooper.
Cowboy, it seems, has his own ideas of rough justice.
This story is bound to bother some readers and probably it should. Cowboy’s blackmailing is morally undefendable and the worst beginning ever to a relationship. Still, I failed at feeling mad at him, and I found myself wrapped up in, and contaminated by a strange, fatalistic mood that isn’t quite acceptance but not condemnation either.
All ambivalent feelings set aside, the truth is that I liked this novella very much, and that I loved what Lanyon did with this squadron, this time, this place, these few days in WWI somewhere in the Somme.
It’s a piece of melancholy, grief, fatalism and compromises shaken up by hunger, fight, relief and life. It’s about a time that leaves no room for doubting that your sexuality is a crime, it’s about your life expectancy being counted in days in a kind of lottery that brings losing numbers only, and it’s about the worth of a human life lying in its usefulness to the group. It’s about what it does to people.
That doesn’t make it more acceptable, but that makes it something questioning. Yet, dubious consent is a perilous exercice, and it could, should have reached deeper than a too fast, too easy resolution of the conflict that bothered me more than the blackmailing itself, because it could be mistaken for a justification, and because it’s a bit of a letdown as far as the story development is concerned.
Yet again, I’ve been caught up between patrols that are nothing more than suicide missions on fragile prototypes hardly fit for dogfights, and rests in-between that are nothing more than despairing wait and already sound like death. There’s something of Nathan‘s poignancy in Bat, there’s insecurity in Cowboy’s attitude and urgency in his wrongdoings; and even though the best the canon fodder was hoping for was to feel numb, at the end of the day, all I wanted was for these young men to feel alive.
That’s what I’m recommending it for.
“The scent of rain was in the air again. He hoped it would rain. He hoped it would come down in sheets and ground them for a day or two. It would be a rare delight to look forward to a day without funerals.”
RATING: 3.5 STARS