Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

 

31 January 2009

Warm Words on a Cheerless Day

Among the myriad complications that belabor the professional writer — and believe me, friends, “myriad” hardly cuts it — is the need to come up with a quick, simple answer for those who ask, “What’s your new book about?” It’s roughly equivalent to being asked to explain quantum mechanics in 10 single-syllable words or less.

But when the writer gamely attempts to answer he finds himself bogged down in the struggle to be lucid and enthusiastic without coming across as a blowhard Hollywood press agent. The ideal compromise, of course, is to simply point to comments made by a third party, preferably one who has shown signs of true literary perceptiveness.

And that’s why the book critic was born.

However, as does every tendril of human endeavor, the art of book criticism falls victim to that arbitrary and sadly unfair cliché, “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Some critics, most often individuals who themselves have written and published a lot over many years, are exceptionally good, in that they recognize the complex challenges an author must overcome in order to make his project work and are themselves literate enough to appreciate the nuances of style and the music of language. Some others are intelligent, workaday citizens who love to read and like to explain to other book lovers why they should or should not look into this book and who therefore become classified as “book reviewers” — a category too good to classify as “bad” but not “good” enough to be seen as classic criticism. And then there are those who write book reports. These aren’t critics at all, because their mere recital of plot lines and back cover blurbs — sans interpretation or insights of their own — are so artless as to demand classification as “ugly.”

In my professional life I’ve experienced them all, and as a pro who hopes to sell his wares, I learned long ago to live with the pitch-man’s basic philosophy, which holds that there ain’t no such thing as bad publicity — good, bad, or ugly notwithstanding. Say what you will, pal, but say it in 100-pont italics with exclamation points. For the generally heedless public, big and loud must mean it’s good, right?

Why am I blathering on like this?

It all stems, I suppose, from the fact that today, a rainy day in which I’m lonely and my bod hurts and my spirits are low, I feel a special warmth when I read Peter Guinta’s commentary on my recently launched novel, The Ace.

Guinta is himself a journalist, a book author, and a former combat infantryman with lots of Nam bumps, and so I put a particular value on what he thinks and has to say about my work. While I’ve never been in his home, never bought him a drink, never shared those man-to-man type moments, he is, in a sense, my brother. And so — be it good, bad, or ugly, be it classic criticism or no — his words cheer me when I need cheering very badly. And for that reason alone, not counting the sheer egotistical hell of it, I want you to read them, too:

From the two disparate halves of Jack D. Hunter’s complex brain comes his 17th novel, “The Ace.”

The book tells the story of John King, a young man from a Pennsylvania coal town, and his pilot friend, Army 2nd Lt. William J. Carpenter, who meet just after the U.S. enters World War I in 1917. Polar opposites, they both realize one thing with diamond clarity: Flying is life, but it can quickly turn into death.

Carpenter becomes King’s mentor and friend, and their paths to the war intertwine throughout the planning, building and initial fighting of America’s air force, which had pilots but no planes of its own. The Yanks borrowed, bought or stole planes from the British and French.

Hunter, interested in history as well as story, has his characters dive into political intrigue, plots to make fortunes and tactical decisions that cost American lives on the Western Front. To get rich, some tried securing control of raw materials or landing sweet government contracts to build aircraft.

Historic figures, such as Gen. Billy Mitchell, sometimes take the stage. Mitchell courageously fought to keep American airmen independent by preventing them from being folded into British or French units. Also making an appearance are tradition-bound generals and conniving officials from both the German and American governments.

The prologue for the book contains no words. It is only a photograph of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram.

The telegram was a cable from the German foreign minister that was decoded and made public. In the message, the German government promises Mexico possession of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico if it attacked the U.S. from the south to keep American troops busy on the border instead of the Western Front.

That was the spark that pushed America into WWI.

Hunter’s book follows the anger that message unleashes in America, and he folds in several beautiful women — some good, some naughty — a talented aircraft designer, a scrum of political toadies and hundreds of highly stressed American airmen who see their comrades dying daily in poorly built planes.

“The Ace” is a page-turner that seats the reader into the cockpit during dogfights and battlefield patrols.

Don’t expect to guess where it’s going. Carefully, with tweezers, Hunter removes any hint of foreshadowing, cliches, cuteness, bathos or pat Hollywood endings.

The story opens a vista to the scope of war and its effects on warriors, an issue relevant today.

“The Ace” gets under the skin. Readers will think about it long after they’ve finished the book.

Prepare to feel yourself in a lonely cockpit, flying over an unknown and dangerous countryside.

* * *

Thanks, Peter, for your kindness and understanding.

Jack

Copyright © 2008 - 2009 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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