Review of Heart of War

by Luican K. Truscott IV

Dutton 1997 370 pp. 23.95

Copyright © Steven E. Alford

 

God is smiling on Lucian K. Truscott IV. Amid lurid reports of military rape, sexual harassment, and adultery, Truscott weighs in with his Heart Of War, a tunic-ripper replete with tales of straight sex, gay sex, and, well, sex. This novel puts to rest any fears of the military’s fitness: apparently the entire command structure are engaged in an ongoing horizontal mambo.

Major Kara Guidry is 35 year-old major, and a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer at Ft. Benning, Georgia. As the novel opens, she is romantically involved with Sergeant Mace Nukanen, earnest, manly, and purportedly off-limits, since fraternization violates Article 134 of the Army Code. Her military romance had taught Guidry "a grim and disheartening lesson, that sex was doomed to a space between them, not of them, and gentleness was a flower in men that bloomed only at night, if at all."

Following a freakishly heavy storm, Major Guidry becomes involved in investigating a death that appeared to be accidental drowning, but is later revealed to be murder. Ultimately, Guidry finds herself defending the man accused of a series of sexually related murders.

Truscott establishes the sometimes Byzantine relationships among the characters clearly and efficiently early in the novel, which is important, because Guidry’s attempt at learning the truth about the murders is complicated by the Army itself.

Following downsizing, the Fifth Army, headed by the ambitious African-American General King, had been moved from Fort Jackson to Fort Benning. This move placed it on the same base as the Third Army and its commander, General William Beckwith. These two men become embroiled in a rivalry for the Army’s top post, the Chief of Staff. The murder investigation coincides with the Generals’ brutal campaign for the top spot. Each wants to use the investigation against the other, and Guidry is caught in the middle. As one character notes, "politicians are always saying, this is a nation of laws, not men. Well, this is an Army of men, not laws."

While sex is paramount in this book, the real theme is overweening ambition, and how ambition, combined with a newly sexualized army, can lead to the abuse of power. "It was all about power, but it was more than that. It was about fear. The men in the Army had turned on the television at night and watched the world changing, outside of their control. Women began to act differently. They were on their way in a different world, and soon they would be admitted to West Point and be on their way up the ladder in the Army."

Although the novel is to be praised for treating gay sexuality alongside straight sex, the descriptions of the two vary curiously. While we’re treated to some steamily descriptive heterosexual sex, in the novel the gay relationships result in no more than some manly hand-holding and brow-kissing.

Homer nods occasionally in the style of this novel. One character is—and I’m not making this up— "wise beyond his years." A gay male wears, without irony, a velvet smoking jacket. Indeed, while Truscott is to be commended for bringing to the general public knowledge that gays have been, and continue to be, a strong element in our national defense, his earnest portrayal of their social life is by turns wooden and pulpy. This shouldn’t, however, deter fans of his previous works, Dress Gray and Army Blue.

Amid nominal peace, Guidry finds herself in the "heart of war." "Either you engage the enemy, or you get the hell off the battlefield." Her battlefield is the courtroom, and those wishing a popularized look at the inside of today’s coed army will find Heart of War a satisfying read.

 

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