cover image Time and Tide

Time and Tide

Thomas Fleming. Simon & Schuster, $19.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-62151-3

Fleming's astonishing gift for portraying the gut realities of war experience in a vast, historically accurate context, clearly evidenced in his bestselling The Officers' Wives, shines forth in this battleship of a novel about the Pacific conflict of WW II, a conflict largely forgotten and (so Fleming's research convinces us) partially covered up. The main focus is on the fictitious USS Jefferson City (modeled on a real-life counterpart), which sailed away from the battle of Savo Island, the biggest defeat in U.S. naval history, and is now fighting to redeem its honor under a man who is the dismissed captain's best friend. Captain McKay probes the mystery of his friend's disgrace while simultaneously seeking to free his ship of its ""bad joss'' in searing naval confrontations and to overcome his disillusion with the Navy and with a wife who seems the embodiment of its system. There are several eye-openers: the mediocrity of the American admirals at Guadalcanal, and in the earlier phase of the war generally; ordinary sailors' anger at FDR and the politicians for pitting them against the Japanese with inadequate ships and planes; onboard homosexuality, and the Navy's short way with it; the wildness of liberty in Australia; the demoralizing effects of the kamikaze attacks; and the Navy's resentment of the atomic bomb for depriving it of its victory. The numerous memorable characters include a stalwart boatswain, a bullying, homosexual boatswain's mate, a cowardly executive officer, a chaplain whose platitudes are scorched away in the fire of experience, McKay himself and the two women in his life. The story is high drama, grim in detail, prevailingly bitter in tone, about men forced by the hell of war to fight for their honor, their lives and, in selected instances, their souls. It's also a very close look at the U.S. Navy as it is and was. Major ad/promo; Military Book Club selection; Literary Guild alternate. (August 31)