Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
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Poignant. I often see people use this word in book reviews, and it makes me wonder how they came to that word choice. Poignant is not a word that I frequently use, but I can think of no better way to describe this almost autobiographical novel. Leslie Mann, who was a bomber pilot in WWII, wrote this not-quite-a-memoir from the point of view of pilot Leslie Mason.
Mason is not a hero, and there is nothing outrageous about his story. What makes this novel so gripping is the way it places the reader inside Mason's head. He is an ordinary young man during extraordinary times, made to feel old at 26 because all those who started their service with him have gone. This is the way he describes his dead friends, as though they might be waiting for him when he returns from the next op. "His friends were in his memory, and he still gained comfort from their company."
I was thoroughly captivated by the detailed thoughts that were exposed in this book. While not retelling any particularly courageous mission or outstanding bravery, this is the first book about WWII that has made me think, "I wonder how many times my grandfather felt that way as he was flying over Germany?" Did he feel, as Mason did, that "The sky could kill him whenever it wanted to. It could become angry and destroy his aircraft in its wrath."
Mason is touched by the fact that airplane manufacturers put time and effort into small details of the machine, though they know how disposable they are. "He wondered if the factory workers ever said to themselves, "That'll do - it won't last long anyway.'" He is annoyed when new airmen take over dead friends' lockers and bunks with no clear respect for the men who came before them. "It was that sort of thing Mason didn't like; there was nobody he could say 'Do you remember? to."
He wonders if anyone is as scared as he is, and who determined what nerve-calming foods went into ration kits. These everyday, profound thoughts truly place the reader in a WWII bomber pilot's mind.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Pick it up, put on some quiet 1940s music and be transported to another place and time.
Book received from NetGalley. Opinions are my own.