One chapter book reviews: Missing in Action: A Family Saga, chapter six
As far as fictional characters go, there is maybe no archetype so boring as the Hero, that figure of unwavering nobility and poise. Whether that hero is deftly vanquishing foes like Superman or valiantly overcoming adversity a la Odysseus, the construct is the same: The Hero represents the David-like ideal of the man who pursues his mission with fortitude, strength and moral uprightness. In Denver author Kevin Diviness's Missing in Action: A Family Saga, the hero is Mike Saunders, who, like Odysseus, has a quest: to find the body of his father, missing in action in North Vietnam for some twenty years. The particulars of the quest come off something like Top Gun, with the homoerotic subtext replaced by Oedipal longing.
Like any good hero, Mike Saunders is single-minded in purpose: Now an adult (his father disappeared when he was four years old), he has joined the Air Force in hopes of being assigned to a mission that would allow him to fulfill that purpose. In chapter six, he's just received a letter letting him know that he has been assigned to a mission involving locating those missing in Vietnam -- hope is at his fingertips. Predictably, that hope is dashed, as his mother somewhat glibly foreshadows at the beginning of the chapter with some of the most stilted dialog I've read since Ed Wood wrote his last screenply:
Mike laid the letter on his kitchen table and placed a call to his mother. After the usual pleasantries, he broke the news.
"Mother, I've got outstanding news. I've just received a letter from the Secretary of Defense's office. I'm going to Vietnam to find dad."
"Is that what the letter says?"
Mike was taken aback. "No, not exactly. I...I just assumed that would be my assignment. In all of my excitement, I did consider any other options."
"Well I think that before you get your hopes up, you should find out."
Tough crowd, Mike. Really, though, "outstanding news?" Who says that? As it turns out, the letter does mean Saunders is supposed to go on the mission he thinks he is (as is revealed in a couple of conversations with a superior officer, both of which come off like an early line-reading between Maverick and the Viper), but at the last minute he's reassigned to Somalia, which takes precedence. Of that mission, the narration notes "The Kumbaya atmosphere had worn off, and it was about to get ugly." That line comes just one short paragraph before the end of the chapter, and if you thought that was about as hackneyed as it could get, then you would be wrong.
Mike scanned the desolation that was his new home. Operation Restore Hope? As far as I'm concerned, I've just been assigned to Operation Revoke Hope.
Amiright or amiright? More problematic than the stilted prose, though, is that ultimately, Mike Saunders seems to be a character utterly without dimension, as single in his sense of duty as a dishwasher -- and while a dishwasher has many admirable qualities, it is not particularly interesting to watch it work.