Anthony Swafford -- Exit A

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Anthony Swafford -- Exit A

Anthony Swofford -- Exit A Celebrated Jarhead author leads a raid into fiction

Anthony Swofford is a brave man. He didn’t have to write a novel, for godsakes, as a follow-up to Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. That first book, hailed as a “searing contribution to the literature of combat” by the NYT, earned praise at every keyboard. The easy path? More nonfiction, soldiers, guns, testosterone. More money.

Still, here’s the fiction. And while Swofford's talent glints many places, the basic training of a first-time novelist shows through in equal measure.

The story lies in comfortable country for an ex-Marine—Yokota, a U.S. military base near Tokyo. A straight-arrow high-school-football star, Severin Boxx, takes a fancy to Virginia, the rebellious half-Japanese daughter of the base general. Virginia’s obsession with the American movie Bonnie and Clyde draws her toward the Japanese underworld. Severin, to protect his first love, makes a choice that simultaneously saves and mars both young lives.

Swofford's most promising sign of potential as a novelist is Part II. Here the book rises from unsteady potboiler, brocaded in the colors of urban Tokyo, to more convincing literary fiction. Whatever had been thin in characterization and plausibility deepens, and Swofford does a better job of winning the hard war for a reader’s belief.