Bob Flynn is an award winning author of novels and stories about Texas and Vietnam, two places and cultures that he is well acquainted with through personal experience. In his new novel, Echoes of Glory, he blends both the culture of small town Texas with the remembrances and misunderstandings of war, into an excellent, interesting and well-paced story on the search for ethics and right.
Sheriff Timpson Smith (Timp) is the reluctant Korean war hero for the small town of Five Mills, the only survivor of the Second Platoon made up mostly of young men from Five Mills. The town has glorified the Platoon, built a statue of Timp, and made him Sheriff; he, in return, has told the town what they needed/wanted to hear about what happened in Korea (after he tried to tell them the truth).
Ready to retire, he is preparing to pass the caretaking of the community onto his deputy Larry Maddin…until Larry shoots and kills Wynn Mills as Timp was trying to talk Mills into putting his shotgun down. Wynn Mills was a Vietnam war veteran, with a reputation for belligerence and some craziness but he was also Timp’s friend (the common bond of coming home from war). When Larry writes in his report that it was a righteous kill, and in fact uses it in his campaign rhetoric, Timp must consider whether to allow this or postpone his retirement…especially since the small town political powers have aligned against him. Larry feels betrayed since he has always supported Timp, and the rhetoric charges the old war hero with losing touch and refusing to make way for the ‘younger warrior’.
A professor from the neighboring town of Advantage decides to (or is chosen) to write a play depicting Second Platoon. This too is turned into a political as well as figurative battlefield, and the truth of Timp and Second Platoon’s fate in Korea comes back to light.
Flynn, as with his previous novels, shows an uncanny knowledge of the way small towns work, including the personalities, rivalries (within the towns folk and with the larger towns), secrets and histories.His method of writing, especially when describing, in short bursts of incredibly descriptive fragments, gives a starkly visible picture of the subject:
Vacant buildings that tempted the idle young, near-empty stores that listed toward the road to hell – All-Night Laundromat that attracted vagrants and nickel and dime thieves; Overnight Dry Cleaning; the barber shop where blacks congregate to tell their anger; Motly Drugs that offered dusy, out-of-date patent medicines, stale cnady, cheap sandals, plastic purses, and school supplies; Rent-All that sold used clothing tools, and sports equipment of suspicious origin; Payroll Loans, only $20 cash; Grabbit N Grin for brea, milk, aspirin, condoms, soft drinks, gas, magazines, and used paperbacks; Drop By drive in that offered warm coffee, stale pastries, and watered drinks. Everything was cheaper, fresher, better at cut-rate stores in Advantage if you had a reason, a car and gasoline.
He also represents war as reality – the reality of it’s nastiness and distaste from the view of the participants, its glorification by people who don’t understand, or who need to think of it in mystique terms.
Timp searched the crowd for veterans whose eyes saw things they did not want to remember. Those whose knowledge of war came from movies seemed entranced.
As with Bob’s previous novels such as Wanderer Springs, the characters are out in force, including the overly righteous Pastor Murphy; his gorgeous black sheep daughter; Timp’s wife Martha, who was widowed when her husband Rocky was killed with the rest of Second Platoon; Hao, the newly widowed Vietnamese wife of the shot-down Wynn Mills; and a cast of others at once eccentric and familiar.
Bob says his life work could be called “The Search for Morals, Ethics and Religion, or at least a good story in Texas and lesser known parts of the world”, and the moral and ethical quandries are explored in great detail: should Timp try again to set the record straight on Second Platoon, or let the people believe what they need to believe? should he battle his selected successor just because he didn’t act the way Timp thought he should have acted? are there any ethics at all in small town Texas politics? (of course, this last one is simply rhetorical).
An excellent cross of small town Texas and the memories of war. Congrats, Bob, on a great novel!