What I Read – April 2016

*I’ve added a new page on the blog that lists all the book reviews. Currently, it is alphabetical by author’s last name. Let me know if you have thoughts on better/additional ways to organize that. Feel free to check out some of the older reviews, including some books I’d forgotten I’d ever reviewed! Did you know that I read and reviewed J. K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy? Or that I’ve reviewed two books by John Green? Can you find the only sci fi book reviews I’ve ever done?

And now, here’s what I read this month:

A Separate Peace – John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1998)

Pax – Sara Pennypacker (illustrated by Jon Klassen) (Balzer + Bray, 2016)

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981)

“Go on,” Helen said, “justify yourself.”

“It would take too long,” he said. “One would have to begin with the arguments for God.”

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa (Lee Boudreau Books, 2016)

The Secret History – Donna Tartt (Vintage Contemporaries, 1992)

His Whole Life – Elizabeth Hay (Emblem Editions, 2015)

He didn’t know how to put it all together, death and life and things looming up. Your heart lies in pieces on the forest floor and the days and nights keep coming.

But You Did Not Come Back – Marceline Loridan-Ivens (Penguin, 2016) (translated by Sandra Smith)

Currently Reading:

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

…That a clean room feels better to be in than a dirty room. That the people to be most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened. That it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak. That you don’t have to hit somebody even if you really really want to. That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.

Like You’d Understand, Anyway – John Shepard



Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt


The Secret History - Donna Tartt (Vintage Contemporaries, 1992)

The Secret History – Donna Tartt (Vintage Contemporaries, 1992)

It’s rare that I really neglect my child in order to read a book, but I came pretty close while reading The Secret History. Tartt provides all the suspense of a good mystery, mixed in with a lot of thoughtful philosophy, strong characters, and great writing.

Our narrator is Richard, a young man who escapes his drab, impoverished life in California for an elite New England college. There he falls in with an odd sort of class – a Greek cohort made up of five other students, who take almost all of their classes with one eccentric professor. The setting and the characters have an old-fashioned feel, a sort of Gentlemen’s Club (there’s only one female student among the six), yet the book takes place in or around the 1980s (my best guess, at least). Richard is a scholarship student while the other five are wealthy and he struggles to find his way into their close knit group. They are a strange group: Henry, Francis, Bunny, and the twins, Charles and Camilla. Smart, rather snobby, each with their foibles. Each of the five views Richard in a slightly different light and some are friendlier than others. Bunny (real name Edmund Corcoran) is perhaps the friendliest, which is strange because we know from the prologue that Richard will be part of a group that eventually murders him.

This is where Tartt really shines. One of the things that frustrates me most in otherwise good novels is when it seems that the narrator is withholding information from the reader. (See my thoughts on The God of Small Things.) Here, we know straight from the Prologue that the others will murder Bunny. The story then moves back in time to Richard’s arrival at Hampden College and we follow his early months, getting to know his cohort classmates. For a long time, there’s no indication as to why he might wish Bunny’s death. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would be frustrating to have a first person narrator who isn’t telling us the whole story. Fortunately, Tartt is a first rate writer and she uses Richard to slowly reveal the whole story. It never feels like he’s withholding because the story is always moving along. The reader is constantly pushing forward to figure out the answer to the question, why would five seemingly normal, highly intelligent young people resort to murder?

The plot might sound like a cheap thriller novel but there’s a lot of interesting ideas behind it. And, I imagine, if I knew more about Greek and Classical literature, the book would be full of even more references. The Classical idea of hubris is an important one, something that becomes ever more evident as the story progresses. The development of the characters is also terrific. Richard, as he becomes mired into the lives of his new friends, and the other five, as Richard begins to know and understand them more clearly. It’s a fascinating and powerful look at human nature and just what each one of us might be capable of.

Book Review: Telephone Time – A First Book of Telephone Do’s and Don’t’s (Reading with Pearl)

As a parent, I look forward to the day when I can tell my kids that I remember the world before the Internet. That I can remember the first iPads, the days before everyone had an e-mail address, or the time when – if you wanted to have a telephone conversation – you had to do so in the middle of the kitchen with everyone listening because your phone had a cord.

So, when I was recently at the local library’s book sale and spotted this little gem, I couldn’t resist.


The author of this educational tale is Ellen Weiss. Hilary Knight is the illustrator. (And the name of a Medieval Literature prof I once had. I really hope it’s the same person.)

Why this book was put out by Shoppers Drug Mart (which is a pharmacy chain here in Canada), I have no idea but it seems delightful. I’m sure Pearl can learn a lot from this book, published in 1986. Let’s take a look.


“The telephone is an important member of the Willis family.” That seems weird, right? To refer to the telephone as a member of your family, on par with your children or even your cat?


It speaks to my low expectations that I’m impressed that a) Mrs. Willis has a job outside of the home and b) Lily’s friend Annie isn’t white, white, Whitey McWhiterson.


Our first telephone tale begins with a phone call from Mrs. Macdougal, a neighbour who needs help. Mrs. Willis tells her children to be very grown-up while she leaves them alone. Lily says she is seven and tw0-thirds old so of course they’ll be fine. This will be the time when I interject and explain how, in the eighties, you could leave a seven-year-old and her little brother alone and no one ever cared.

Of course, as soon as Mrs. Willis is out of the picture, Lily and Willy engage in unsafe telephone behaviour and Willy tells a stranger on the phone that their mother isn’t home. That’s when we meet…


Ringalina who is, I think, a flying bell? She’s here to teach the children about phone safety. In a terrifying manner. She tells the kids not to say that they’re home alone but doesn’t seem to realize that she’s arrived too late. The stranger from the dentist’s office already knows!


The next story is titled “A Christmas Surprise” and we find Willy on the phone (in the kitchen! on a rotary phone!), tying up the line. Is that still a thing? I can’t remember the last time I impatiently waited to make a phone call. Cell phones have really diminished this issue.

Willy says he’s on the phone to Santa which of course, begs the question, Who is Willy talking to? Seriously, what number has he called and who is the stranger on the other end patiently listening to Willy’s lengthy list of desired toys?

Instead of getting answers, Ringalina shows up to explain the hidden costs of long distance calls. Another thing I feel like I haven’t worried about in a long time. Even in the dark recesses of my childhood, we had phone plans. Then again, we still don’t know who or where Willy has been calling.

(In case you’re wondering, the “Surprise” of the title is the phone bill that Willy’s parents receive. Bleak holiday in the Willis household.)

Ringalina then shows off her “Gallery of Phone Monsters”.


Being a grumpy jerk doesn’t seem like a strictly phone-related issue…(Sometimes, you just feel full of grumples, right?)

Now here are two phone problems that are rarely seen anymore:



Now on to the next story, in which Mrs. Willis again leaves her children to help Mrs. Macdougal. Willy assumes a man on the phone who says he’s their dad is not their dad but it turns out that it was their dad, he just had a cold. Riveting stuff. I’d rather focus on what’s going on in this picture:


Lily and Willy are watching television with a…family of marmots? Are these their pets? An infestation? This seems like a much bigger issue than the telephone thing.

Ringalina visits Willy at night to give him a gold star


Show your child this picture and be sure they’ll never sleep alone again!

(Also terrifying – Are Willy’s slippers alive? They look like scared rats that he’s transformed into slippers while still, somehow, keeping them alive.)

In our final story, the kids are left alone while Dad goes to help Mrs. Macdougal. I’m beginning to think that maybe Mrs. Macdougal needs to be in some sort of assisted-living facility.

While the kids are alone, a fire hydrant in front of their hose goes off and Ringalina shows up to tell the kids to call for help. Lily calls 911 and is applauded for staying calm and getting help. Which is all good but it seems to me that this wasn’t a good reason to call 911. I actually did once come across a burst water pipe in my neighbourhood and I called the local district number. The police non-emergency line also might have worked. Let’s teach kids not to tie up 911 with unnecessary phone calls!


In the end, there’s probably some good telephone advice here for kids. (Such as, it’s okay to hang up the phone if you hear words that aren’t nice!) It’s kind of amazing to think how much telephone technology has changed in the 30 years since Shoppers Drug Mart (again, why?) produced this book and, chances are, when Pearl’s old enough to read it herself she won’t get why I find it so funny. But hopefully she’ll still be polite on the phone.


Book Review: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist - Sunil Yapa (Lee Boudreau Books, 2016)

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa (Lee Boudreau Books, 2016)

There’s a lot to applaud in Sunil Yapa’s debut novel. He combines words and creates scenes in unique ways, blending words unexpectedly to create a moment or invoke a sense. His descriptions are detailed without tipping over to the realm of overkill and the results are characters and scenes that are easy to visualize. The problems of Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist are more political than structural.

This novel takes place in one day, at the beginning of the WTO Riots that took place in 1999. The so-called “Battle in Seattle” was a peaceful protest about the unfair treatment of the developing world that turned violent. I remember it in the news a bit, the photos of police and protesters clashing in the streets, almost two decades ago. Yapa uses alternating perspectives of a few different characters in the crowd that day – both protestors and police – to tell the story.

At the heart of the action is Victor, a teenage runaway who ends up in the middle of the riot by accident, and his estranged father, who just so happens to be chief of the Seattle Police. While this connection is, perhaps, a little convenient, I was initially intrigued. It seemed like a powerful way to tell the story from two opposing sides yet still with mutual empathy. Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that this isn’t that kind of story. This is a 2016 story about police. Which would be fine – it is 2016 after all – if this weren’t supposed to be a day set in 1999. The view of that day in Seattle, as seen in Yapa’s novel, is soaked in a 2016 viewpoint and it makes the story feel dishonest. This is a story about police brutality and I don’t think it’s the way the story would have been told in 1999. It’s the story of police brutality and racism in the United States in the last couple of years but for some reason it’s set in 1999.

I was a teenager in 1999 so I was only dimly aware of the events in Seattle. As I read Your Heart is a Muscle, I did a little bit of research, reading some newspaper articles from 1999 as well as some more recent writing. The details of what happened, who did what, and how it started are still unclear in many ways. Certainly, there was police brutality. However, the brutality of the police as shown in Your Heart is a Muscle is extreme and grotesque. The police characters are just that, characters (The police chief’s name, for example, is changed from his real-life counterpart). This is a novel. Yet it’s a novel based on real events that didn’t occur that long ago and I think it’s dangerous on Yapa’s point to make up such actions. My biggest problem was that, with all the varying characters and perspectives, he doesn’t offer a counterpoint. The police officers are all awful and cruel. There is what might have been an attempt to offer a more rounded view of one of the worst characters but it’s too little, too late. I’m not sure if Yapa didn’t really want to humanize a truly awful character or if he wasn’t quite skilled enough as a writer to create a more nuanced human being.

The action of the riots is interrupted with interludes from a Sri Lankan delegate, stopped from getting to his important meetings of the WTO by the protesters. Here again is a lost opportunity. This is the chance for the novel to really delve into what the protests were about. I thought the view of what Sri Lanka stands to gain and lose from the WTO was interesting and for a while it seemed like here would be the sort of ambiguity a writer can leave their reader with. A sort of grey zone that tells the reader the writer believes you to be smart enough to really ponder the big questions. Unfortunately, by the end of the novel, Yapa has pounded us firmly into black-and-white and, frankly, made his own character look flat and foolish.

I’m coming down hard on this one, I know, and it’s because I was disappointed. There’s some good writing here. The plot has a lot of potential. The setting is unique. There could have been real power here. I don’t know of another novel that delves into this riot and there are a lot of questions about what happened that are still left unanswered. In the end, while there’s enough that works here that I would recommend Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, I would also say, I hope for more and for better from Yapa’s next work.


3 Day Quote Challenge: Day #3

Check out Day #1 and Day #2, as well as Judith‘s original challenge to find out what this is all about.


My third and final quote comes from C.S. Lewis. I could probably share C.S. Lewis quotes all day long but since I’m sticking to things I’ve read this year, I’m sharing a quote from Letters to Malcolm.

The great work of art was made for the sake of all it does and is, down to the curve of every wave and the flight of every insect.

This quote comes at the end of a chapter – or rather a letter – about providence, destiny, and God’s creative acts. (Lewis is actually making an argument against a quotation by Pope.) A little bit before what I’ve quoted above, Lewis says,

One of the purposes for which God instituted prayer may have been to bear witness that the course of events is not governed like a state but created like a work of art to which every being makes its contribution and (in prayer) a conscious contribution, and in which every being is both an end and a means.


God as Artist is one of my favourite views of God. I see this in the world around me – its beauty and complexity. I believe that the world shows us a Creator who not only loves beauty but delights in His creation, down to the very smallest of details. Lewis captures this beauty and joy in that wonderful phrase “the curve of every wave and the flight of every insect.”


What are your favourite quotes? Something you’ve read recently or loved for years? Share it on your own blog or in the comments!


3 Day Quote Challenge: Day #2

(Check out Day #1 and Judith at ReadandReview2016 to see what this is all about.)


My quote for Day #2 comes from Don Quixote. If you’ve been reading along here then you know that I (finally) finished Don Quixote in March and that it was a long time coming. For such a big book, I didn’t copy down a lot of quotes but here’s one I did like:

Honour is something that a poor man can have, but not a dissolute one; poverty can cast a cloud over nobility, but cannot hide it altogether; but if virtue gives out a glimmer of light, even if only through the chinks and straits of penury, it will be valued and therefore favoured by lofty and noble spirits.

Don Quixote is, of course, famously insane. He’s best known for his mad adventures and delusions. On the flip side of that though is that, throughout the book, others are often amazed by how sane he can sound when speaking of serious matters. Crazy as he may be, Don Quixote has some very noble ideals and upholds an admirable standard of behaviour and belief.

There’s something uniquely lovely in reading a book written hundreds of years ago and finding yourself agreeing with the author. (Though there was lots that Cervantes and I did not see eye-to-eye on!)

This picture has nothing to do with anything. When out for a walk, we always have to stop to say hello to dogs.

This picture has nothing to do with anything. When out for a walk, we always have to stop to say hello to dogs.

What are your favourite quotes? Something you’ve read recently or loved for years? Share it on your own blog or in the comments!


3 Day Quote Challenge: Day #1

IMG_6662When I read a book and I come across a line, a phrase, or a paragraph I like, I copy out the quotation in my journal. (And, I confess, if the book belongs to me I fold down the page and/or underline the part I like.) Sometimes I share these quotations when I write my book reviews here. Sometimes I don’t, because they’re too long or they don’t really fit in with what I’m trying to say about the book.

I was recently tagged in a 3-Day Quote Challenge by Judith over at her blog. So I’m taking the opportunity to share some of the quotes I’ve copied down so far this year but haven’t shared here. Interspersed with some recent photos because it’s nice to have something to look at, right?


My quote for Day #1 comes from Heather O’Neill’s short story collection Daydreams of Angels. This particular story is titled “The Conference of Birds”.

Are you who you are when you are a tiny fetus? There are some people who will say that you aren’t properly you yet. But of course you are.

You are you even long before that. You are you when your parents begin to get dressed in fancy clothes one Saturday night. You are you when your mother, who is barely twenty-one years old, puts on a pair of yellow lace underwear. When she plucks her eyebrows in the mirror and when she puts on a red dress that is cut really low and burgundy lipstick: that’s all about you,baby.

You are you when your father, who is also twenty-one years old, pops a pimple on his forehead. When he puts on his fancy shiny shirt that was made by children in a sweatshop in Indonesia. When he isn’t sure that he actually looks good – but he has been lucky twice before when wearing it.

They are both riding the subway in opposite directions to meet each other and you have already begun. That is your beginning. You have as much right to be as anybody.

Heather O’Neill just gets it so right in the details. She nails the nerves, the excitement, the small moments of preparing for a first date. And I love this idea of how our lives – our very existence – is set into motion long before we ever exist. When you think back over the moments that had to occur just so your life could happen, it’s kind of amazing. Think of the moments your grandparents met. The choice your great-grandfather made that led down the line to your life. That the fact I’m typing this out today all began more than forty years ago when my parents went roller skating.

Our beginnings are complicated and important and good to be reminded of and O’Neill does a beautiful job here.

What are your favourite quotes? Something you’ve read recently or loved for years? Share it on your own blog or in the comments!


Book Review: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981) (Guess who took those tiny bites out of the cover of my book?)

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981)
(Guess who took those tiny bites out of the cover of my book?)

The convergence of literature and religion is something that has long interested me as a reader, a writer, and a Christian. It’s rare that I’m quite satisfied with the way Christianity and the Christian life and walk is portrayed in art (this was one of my primary complaints with such books as Good to a Fault and The Bishop’s Man) but Graham Greene* accomplishes this with skill and pathos. His portrayal of a man struggling with morality, damnation, faith, and trust is heartbreakingly real. This quote comes as the main character, Scobie, struggles in prayer over his final decisions:

No one can speak a monologue for long alone – another voice will always make itself heard; every monologue sooner or later becomes a discussion. So now [Scobie] couldn’t keep the other voice silent; it spoke from the cafe of his body: it was as if the sacrament which had lodged there for his damnation gave tongue. You say you love me, and yet you’ll do this to me – rob me of you for ever. I made you with love. I’ve wept your tears. I’ve saved you from more than you will ever know; I planted in you this longing for peace only so that one day I could satisfy your longing and watch your happiness. And now you push me away, you put me out of your reach. There are no capital letters to separate us when we talk together. I am not Thou but simply you, when you speak to me; I am humble as a any other beggar. Can’t you trust me as you’d trust a faithful dog? I have been faithful to you for two thousand years.

Scobie is a British police man in a West African colony during World War II. He’s been there for fifteen years. He’s scrupulously honest – refusing bribes and favours that many others take – and he does his job well. Yet he’s unpopular with the other officers and he’s passed over for the role of Commissioner in favour of a newer, younger man. His wife, Louise, unhappy with the colony and humiliated by this slight, pushes for Scobie to send her away. A break, they call it, a few months in another location before he joins her and they’ll be at peace again. Scobie doesn’t have the money for this but Louise’s persistence and his own desire both to make her happy and to be alone result in him borrowing the funds from a questionable source.

This is Scobie’s first misstep and from there the novel traces his steady, slippery fall into a murky region of immorality. Greene’s foreshadowing is stupendous, some of the best I’ve ever seen. Nothing heavy-handed but events unfold with a sort of inevitability that kept me reading and made me more sympathetic for Scobie than I might have been otherwise.

After Louise departs, Scobie is called to help deal with the survivors of a passenger ship attacked and sunk by enemy boats. (The war has this sort of peripheral but crucial role in the story.) Here he meets Helen Rolt, a very young woman widowed in the attack, and the course of his life is altered.

What they had both thought was safety proved to have been the camouflage of an enemy who works in terms of friendship, trust and pity

Graham Greene proves himself as both a skilled writer and a man who understands the struggle, the tragedy, and the delight of religious faith. This is the second novel by Graham Greene I’ve read (I read The Power and the Glory years ago) and I will definitely be reading more.


* Irrelevant personal fact: When I was a kid there was a Canadian actor named Graham Greene who was on TV and I thought that he and the author Graham Greene were the same person for longer than I probably should have.


Book Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (Reading with Pearl)

Pax - Sara Pennypacker (Balzer + Bray, 2016)

Pax – Sara Pennypacker (Balzer + Bray, 2016)

I was really excited about this book when I first heard about it. A modern day animal story, an adventure and a journey to reunite between a boy and his fox. I expected something like The Incredible Journey or The Trumpet of the Swan. I hadn’t read Sara Pennypacker before but I love Jon Klassen’s illustrations. With such high expectations, I turned out to be disappointed.

Overall, I wanted more from Pax. I wanted more of Klassen’s illustrations (there really aren’t that many and they aren’t integrated much into the story). I wanted more drama and adventure. I wanted more to be explained.

The book begins with twelve-year-old Peter and his pet fox, Pax, who he has raised from a small kit. When Peter’s father enlists to fight in the war, Peter is sent to live with his grandfather and his father forces him to release Pax into the wild. Peter quickly feels guilty about betraying Pax in this way. Knowing Pax has never lived in the wild and lacks the necessary survival skills, Peter sets out to find him.

Vola studied Peter as if she were seeing him for the first time. “So which is it? You going back for your home or for your pet?”

“They’re the same thing,” Peter said, the answer sudden and sure, although a surprise to him.

So far, so good, but when Peter breaks his ankle both his journey and the plot are waylaid. Unable to travel, Peter stumbles across a woman living alone in the woods. Vola is hiding out from society but humanity bursts in on her in the form of Peter. There’s lot of potential here and Vola is an interesting character but this section really drags on too long. The drama of the novel is Peter’s journey to find Pax but a large chunk of it stagnates while he hangs out with Vola and learns life lessons.

The chapters from Peter’s perspective are balanced by chapters from Pax’s perspective. Left alone in the wild for the first time, Pax struggles to survive. He meets some other foxes, some who accept him and some who don’t. Pennypacker does well in her depictions of the foxes and their interactions. They’re animals and she doesn’t attempt to overly anthropomorphize them (at least not more so than a book about their adventures already does). The dialogue between then is brief and animalistic and their actions seem to make sense from a fox perspective. The writing here is strong and visceral and Pennypacker chooses her words well. Her descriptions are mostly succinct but she evokes the wild in all its fear and beauty well.I probably could have read a story that was just about Pax’s adventures in the wild.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the novel for me was that I had no idea when or where we were supposed to be. A war taking place and getting ever closer to Peter and Pax is at the centre of this novel. At the beginning, I assumed this was World War II and that the novel was set in England. As the story progressed, it seemed like the setting was more modern – Peter and the people around him seem to be living in the present day. So what war is this? I’m left to assume this is some imaginary war that could take place in the future in North America but I’m not sure what the point of making up a war is. There are plenty of real wars in the world, both now and in the past. There’s nothing in the story itself that needs to be set in the 21st century. Or if Pennypacker did desire a modern day setting, again, there are plenty of current wars to choose from.

The topic of war is actually one of the most problematic aspects of the novel. Turns out, this isn’t a story about a boy and his animal and the adventure they have while making their way back to each other. No, this is a story about how terrible war is. And while that could be a worthwhile topic, Pennypacker is extremely heavy-handed in her message. There’s no subtlety, there’s no discussion of why people might view war as necessary. There’s one small reference to water being at the centre of this war and, seeing as that is something I could imagine people fighting over in the future, there’s a missed opportunity to offer any sort of balance. War is bad and that message is beaten over our heads for most of the book.

While reading Pax, I was also reading A Separate Peace, a young adult novel set during the Second World War. The message about war in A Separate Peace was much more subtle (and therefore more powerful, I found) and offered a sharp contrast to Pennypacker’s clumsy effort.


Book Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace - John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1988)

A Separate Peace – John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1988)

A Separate Peace is one of the more unusual books about World War II that I’ve ever read. Set in 1942, it begins in the summer term at Devon, an upscale boys’ prep school in New England. Our narrator is Gene Forrester. Quiet, smart, a little awkward. Summer term at Devon is a lull in their normal lives; with only a few staff and students present, things happen that wouldn’t normally occur. Some rules are a little looser. Partially, this is due to the presence of Gene’s best friend, Phineas. Phineas – or Finny – is charming, charismatic, with a loose confidence that seems to make everything in his life fall perfectly into place. Until one, terrible thing doesn’t and both Gene and Phineas are changed forever.

The terrible event – alluded to early on by our narrator, an adult Gene – is easy to see coming. Gene’s role in it, however, feels both surprising and inevitable. The whole novel has that sort of momentum. I was surprised when things happened and yet it seemed that the book had been leading in that direction in such a way that nothing else could possibly happen.

It is the setting in time of this story that makes it unique and gives it it’s particular poignancy. Halfway through the war, Gene and his classmates know that they are moving forward into battle. Sixteen and seventeen, enlistment or the draft are all their future holds for certain. Even their education has morphed to prepare them for their role in the war. Yet, for now, they have a reprieve. They can pretend for a little longer that the war doesn’t exist. They are safe for a little longer. Until, as the novel progresses, the war creeps closer and these young men begin to catch darker and darker glimpses of what may be to come.