Eastern Shore author releases Book 4 of his Irish-American saga
Easton-based novelist Gerald Sweeney knows about many things. He knows about the American military and the Korean War. He knows about the national zeitgeist of the 1950s and beyond. And he knows about love, great love, and the all-consuming inferno that comes with it. These are the messages the resound from the newly released Book 4 of his Columbiad series, A Tournament of a Distinguished White Order.
Jim Mahoney is what was commonly known as a malcontent — someone dissatisfied with and alienated by the current or prevailing condition. Jim’s beef is with the American government in particular. He is a reluctant private in the U.S. Army during the Korean War who resists signing his loyalty oath. But as it becomes crystal clear that he faces not only the stockade but Leavenworth for refusing, he affixes the document with the name “Dwight D. Eisenhower.”
His recalcitrance combined with his ethical stances get him branded a communist by some in his unit. He even gets beat up for it. But the fact is, Jim is not a communist; he is a proud socialist, a diehard iconoclast and a devout Catholic — clearly a young man who was meant more for the world that would follow than the one fresh off a conflict that saw an entire world at war. Fortunately, Jim has friends in his unit. There is Gooden, an inductee from Mahoney’s hometown and an undervalued high-school acquaintance who proves a good and loyal friend. There is also Cassandro, who, while not being quite in sync temperamentally with Gooden, is more sophisticated intellectually and philosophically than Jim and therefore valuable as Jim continues to probe the intricacies and vicissitudes of life in his time. The friends often challenge each other, as males are wont to do, but at the end of the day, they have one another’s backs.
Back in New York, Jim’s girlfriend, Fawn Evans, is a rising star who fills a room with her breathtaking beauty and scintillating charisma. As Sweeney put it so eloquently, “She was a little too Irish to be beautiful, though she photographed as well as any star. Cameras were her friends. And glamour her mother.” She seems almost too much to be possessed by any one man, yet she considers Jim her world. Though their circumstances prevent the couple from uniting anywhere near as often as they’d like, when they do come together, the chemistry is incandescent, and world around them soon melts away. Eventually, Jim gets discharged from the Army and becomes a writer, while Fawn takes her place on the stage during Broadway’s Golden Age, with productions of South Pacific, Kiss Me, Kate, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes setting the tone. It is time abuzz with possibility yet rife with potential peril.
As a novelist, Sweeney demands the attention of his reader. His erudition is conspicuous, but he prefers to wield it like a bunt down the third-base line rather than a grand slam. He is not a fan of short, punchy Hemingwayesque prose nor is he given to a plethora of purple-prose parlor tricks. Instead, he is thoughtful, introspective and philosophical — and thus, so are his characters. Fans looking for a ringing endorsement of the Old Glory status quo are likely to come away disappointed, though, as Sweeney eschews the sacred cows of the age. He’d much rather play the harbinger for the incipient cultural revolution that was beginning to coalesce.
But at his heart, Sweeney is a true romantic, as evidenced by the way he tenderly nurtures the love story between Jim and Fawn, the most compelling subplot of the story. He understands, for example, that there is, however elusive it may be, a level of joy that can arise from love that will drive an otherwise stable, rational person to tears of disbelief. It is one of the rarest human emotions, but it does exist, and Sweeney seems to have experienced it, up close and personal. In the end, Sweeney emerges as a deep thinker, a good writer and a proud exponent of the Eastern Shore’s evolving class of literati.
A TOURNAMENT OF A DISTINGUISHED WHITE ORDER
The Columbiad — Book 4
By Gerald F. Sweeney
490 pages (paperback)
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