In Jarhead (2003), Swofford, a former marine, compellingly chronicled his experiences in the first Gulf War. In his first novel, he appears to draw on his upbringing as an air-force dependent. Seventeen-year-old Severin Boxx is a straight-arrow football player who lives on Yokota, the U.S. Air Force base just outside Tokyo. He is in love with Virginia Kindwall, who fantasizes that she is Bonnie Parker and robs convenience stores. Virginia's father, the base general, is Severin's football coach. When Virginia tries to recruit Severin for a life of crime, he refuses to join her, but the intensity of this brief encounter is enough to bind them together for life. The book starts off strongly, setting Severin's dilemma against the uneasy, and vividly depicted, symbiosis between base and city, and the heady emotions of youth seem perfect for this intersection of worlds. But when we meet Severin and Virginia as adults, the book loses its momentum, and when they meet again, the book loses its way. Is it about reconciling with authoritarian fathers? The possibility of recapturing first love? Our inability to escape the past? The difficulty of living in two worlds? Ultimately, Swofford is much better at rendering unfamiliar worlds (military bases, criminal life) than familiar ones (college campuses, relationships).
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