William Wharton’s third novel, published in 1982. I read a William Morrow edition with terrible-smelling ink and cheap pages (seriously, buy a different used edition if you get this one).
1.5 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 2
Seen the Movie: Yes. And, if memory serves, it’s better than the book.
Six American soldiers are stationed at an abandoned chateau in the winter of 1944. German soldiers make contact, wanting to surrender but needing it to look like they were captured in a fight.
We have another Christine (review) on our hands: A book I loved in high school and struggled through as a thirty-something.
I can tell you exactly why I liked it at fifteen-years-old: this is a sentimental, borderline-precious, undemanding War Is Bad story. We have a kind, highly intelligent (or so he keeps telling us), sensible young man as our lead. His friends are kind, highly intelligent men. These guys are so nice, they pay a woman for sex, then spend half the night talking to and consoling her! They’re also geniuses at bridge – 15% of the book hinges on you understanding the terminology of the game. And they never curse! They don’t smoke! They’re gentlemen, even in war. What minds! What men!
Nothing about A Midnight Clear works for me now. It’s written in first person, present tense (God knows when this style started bothering me, but it takes a damn good author to sell me on it now). And Wharton doesn’t use a single dialogue attribution in the book. Not one. He lets us know who’s speaking by having characters use each other’s names incessantly, which feels incredibly unnatural (How often do you use your co-workers names mid-conversation?).
Wharton variously refers to his characters by first names, last names, and nicknames and gives them few distinguishing qualities. At times, I thought there were eight to ten men in the main group and it took until the end of the book to be sure there were only six. (This is coming from someone who can keep war casts in The Thin Red Line, Catch-22 and Band of Brothers relatively straight.)
And (she continued hysterically), the horrible events of the story could have been avoided if one piece of information was shared with one character. Five of the Americans decide not to tell the sixth that the Germans want to surrender. Why? They think it will cause him more stress. Why? I don’t know. You’d think the nervous American would be relieved to know that the nearby Germans aren’t out to kill them. It’s like a romantic comedy plot, for God’s sake.