Friday, February 8, 2013

Frank Nappi - Echoes from the Infantry - Review

About the Book

Echoes From The Infantry is the tale of one Long Island World War II veteran, the misery of combat, and the powerful emotional bonds that brought him home to Rockaway Beach and the love of his life, Madeline Brandt. It is about a father and son, and their ultimately redeeming struggle to understand each other's worlds - one a world at war, the other shaped by its veterans. Nappi moves artfully between the present and past, weaving a fictionalized tale of this Long Islander's struggle to reconcile with the demons from long ago and his family's neverending battle with many of the intangible burdens caused by the private life of a man they never really knew. He touches our hearts with a story of courage and perseverance...a story of men who faced the greatest challenge of their generation.

My Review

When communication breaks down between a father and son, the resulting pain can last a lifetime. Author Frank Nappi movingly explores how the trauma of a father's wartime service destroys the relationship he has with his son. The secret that haunts James McCleary is revealed in the book's final pages, but its repercussions on his son, John, resound throughout the novel. James' inability to move forward and make peace with his past, prevents him from forming any type of paternal bond with John. It's a sad commentary on how a father's one tragic mistake can reverberate through time to damage the psyche of his son.

The main emphasis of the novel focuses on James' tour of duty in Europe during World War II. Digging trenches to stave off the brutal cold. Timing a run across a bridge to avoid German mortars. Imagining full course dinners while surviving on a soldier's rations. The details of the day to day existence of a soldier are given a realistic voice. Nappi's interviews with actual veterans infuses his writing thanks to the Veterans Speaker Program at Oceanside High School where he works as an English teacher. These firsthand, eyewitness accounts bring the men of James' battalion to life in a way that lends authenticity and credibility to a fictional work.

For the most part, each chapter begins with John in the present day as he uncovers his father's Army mementos while cleaning out the attic of the family home. He discovers letters written by his father to his mother while overseas. John does not recognize the romantic, optimistic young man whose vibrancy shines through in his correspondence to his sweetheart back in Rockaway Beach, New York. He is not the sullen, hostile father who sits moping in the living room below. The discord between who James McCleary was and the father he knows shatters John's own sense of identity.

It is clear that James is to blame for his transgressions against his son regardless of the emotional battle scars he refuses to relinquish. The constant belittlement of John is hard to witness in the flashback sequences. James is a broken man trying to build himself up by tearing his son down. It is no wonder that John harbors little affection for a father figure who continually takes his harbored misery out on him. In essence, John became nothing more than his father's emotional punching bag. And regardless of his inner demons, James chooses the easy way out by bullying his son, instead of finding the strength to find help for his emotional turmoil.

The one character that creates a feeling of ambivalence is Madeleine, a.k.a. Mrs. McCleary. Her resistance to take a stand against James' verbal abuse is troubling. Throughout their marriage, she lets her husband walk all over their son. It is behavior that is hard to ignore, or forgive. She is not a mean-spirited persona, but her unwillingness to curb her husband's negativity results in John's lack of self-esteem and the problems he encounters down the road - drunkenness, running away from home, a broken marriage, etc. By refusing to address James' prolonged mistreatment of their son, she sets John up for an emotional meltdown of his own.

This psychological drama gives a necessary, yet disturbing, look at what makes up the shared consciousness of the Baby Boomer generation. It presents a searing portrayal of what most never talked about before, but Nappi shines a light on the cracks that exist in the perfect, all-American family. What lies under the surface is often more profound, and utterly heartbreaking. Literary works like Nappi's can finally allow the healing to begin.


Madeline came home to find James on the couch. She set her bags down and kissed his cheek. He was unavailable. He reminded her somehow of those German cities in ruin: not functioning and only remotely hopeful for a future. “My goodness, the stores were mobbed,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He barely acknowledged her arrival. He was lost in the familiar practice of stuffing those goddamned socks under his arm. Those socks. How she hated those socks. More than anything. More than the way he sat in the living room of their home in the evenings, staring vacantly out the window into the darkness; more than the way he jumped to attention each time an airplane passed overhead or a car door slammed. Those socks. He had them squirreled away in every room. There were enough pairs to outfit all the New York Yankees.

They were more disconcerting than the way he ground his teeth while he slept or the way his mind drifted during moments such as these. She had tried. From the moment he came back to Rockaway, she tried to guide him gently toward his new life. She prepared all of his favorite meals. She made certain that the house was always warm. Fresh flowers adorned the tables in each room, and the soothing tones of classical piano insulated their home from the harsh sounds of the street, which always seemed to bring him back to the front line.

“Jimmy!” she admonished him. “Did you hear a word I just said?” Her arms were folded. The tapping of her foot on the oak floor echoed like a drumroll. “Yeah, yeah, Maddie. I heard you.” He pulled his hand out from under his shirt. His gaze was still off in the other direction. “Look, Jimmy. This has gone on long enough,” she said. “It’s time to live again. Time to be a husband again. Jimmy, please. Put those damn socks away.” They were the most difficult words she had ever spoken. She labored for weeks over how and when and even if she should. He was unpredictable and at times volatile, particularly when she questioned the reason behind what he was doing. This fear had held her voice captive. Until now. When she heard the words leave her lips, she was surprised, almost as if they were uttered by someone else.

“What did you say?” he responded, cutting her down with his icy stare. “Why would you ask me that?” She cowered in front of him like a frightened child. She did not answer. Why had she said anything? She should have kept her mouth closed, left him to his thoughts. Now she was reeling, and with nothing else to say, her silence enraged him. He grabbed her by the wrists and shook her violently, muttering something about soldiers and shell holes and Bastogne in the winter. She started to cry. He released her abruptly and stormed upstairs, leaving her crumpled on the floor.

She had bundled up his uniforms and his pack, buried them in his footlocker and tucked it all away neatly in a corner of the attic. She had hidden his souvenir weapons and photographs as well. Even the decorations he had received were placed out of his reach, in the back of her jewelry box. She thought she had covered everything, separated him from the world that still haunted him. But she had forgotten something. She sat on the floor, feeling stupid and childish. Dusk had crept through the window and there she sat, crying, wiping her eyes on her shirt sleeves. She did not want to feel this way. It was worse than any confrontation with James could ever be. She lifted herself off the floor, grabbed a bag, and gathered every last pair of socks he had, leaving only the ones under his armpit and on his feet.

She found him upstairs, sitting in the shadows of their bedroom, his head resting in the palms of his hands. “Jimmy,” she whispered. “I don’t know exactly why you are still carrying those socks. I’m sure you have a good reason. But you’re home now. You don’t need them, sweetheart.” She ran her hand gently across her protruding belly. There wasn’t going to be room for an extra pair of socks in the life Maddie had planned for herself and for her family. There were things now more important than socks, something inside of her, a new life, full of hope and promise. He needed to understand that. “Let me have them, Jimmy. Please. I want them.”

He rose slowly but said nothing. He slid his hands around her waist and locked them behind her back. Then he started to crumble. “I’m sorry, Maddie. I’m sorry. But I can’t. I can’t do it,” he said, choking on every word. “I can’t do it, Maddie.”

……she was right. Everything would be great. He could do this. Husband. Father. Plenty of guys did it. Why not him? He turned to her and opened his eyes. Her face was just a silhouette, glinting in the sheen of the moonlight. He pressed his mouth against hers. It was great. Everything would be great, he thought, if he could find a way to just forget.


Echoes from the Infantry can be purchased at:

Price: $3.99
Pages: 256
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release: October 13, 2005

About the Author

Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA's silver medal for outstanding fiction. His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story "A Mile in His Shoes" starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder. Frank continues to produce quality work, including Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story and the just released thriller, Nobody Has to Know, which received an endorsement from #1 New York Times bestselling author Nelson DeMille. Frank is presently at work on a third installment of his Mickey Tussler series and his next thriller. He lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.

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