“Guard of Honor”

May 4, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Pulitzer winner for 1949, Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens deserves to be better known.  It’s a WWII story about an Air Force base in Florida, and it could be shelved between The Caine Mutiny and Catch-22.

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The story revolves around a racial incident.  The action covers a span of three days, and introduces a broad variety of characters working in different capacities on and near the base.  The first page or so is filled with intricate technical details, which I confess to find off-putting (especially in a 600+ page book like this), but the plot quickly took off and the pace didn’t stop.

The dialogue is sharp and witty, the central ethical dilemmas are compellingly nuanced, and the characters sometimes break into bawdy song.  What I found most interesting, though, was first that this book examined segregation in 1949, and second that Cozzens slyly made it apparent that the prevailing social attitude toward women was deserving of equal scrutiny.  (If this book had a sequel it could have been called Tailhook).

If you enjoy reading the Pulitzer winners but you want to focus on the best ones, add Guard of Honor to your list.

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