A new book review style and Vanished, part 1

We’re gonna try something a little different: When books are the content type of choice on this blog, I’m no longer going to wait until I finish the book to write about it.

Instead, I’ll post blogs while I’m reading it, hopefully sharing that experience along the way and making the process of consuming books more engaging and fun.

This is how we write/talk about television shows – it’s commonplace to post episode reviews, which makes following the show over a course of weeks more enjoying and interactive. Right now, like many, I’m watching HBO’s ‘True Detective’ and look forward to reading Alan Sepinwall’s thoughts each Sunday night or Monday morning, or scanning different culture sites.

For some reason, nobody that I know of has taken this approach with books even though we can draw parallels between these two forms of content – both are carried by narrative arcs, with a chapter being a book’s “episode.” So why not engage them in a similar way?

I’m going to now, and hopefully it’s a fun way to read (with the only difference being I won’t take weeks upon weeks to get through a book, I promise).

***

Let’s start with a book I’m in the middle of now and loving – “Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II,” by Wil S. Hylton.

I’m 158 pages in and have felt the narrative – at least from where I’m reading – shift.

The book sinks its hooks into you immediately by getting you to invest in the search for Tommy Doyle’s father, Jimmie, who allegedly was one of 11 men who went down with an American plane over the Pacific islands of Palau in 1944. Army mission reports stated the airplane crashed in shallow waters, but investigators could never come across the wreckage when they traveled to Palau.

This fostered conspiracy theories that the men made it home alive but didn’t return to their families, that they were hiding in the United States for reasons unknown. A story rippling through the Doyle family in West Texas went like this: Jimmie made it back alive and was in California living with a new wife and two daughters and didn’t care about a relationship with his son anymore.

Tommy didn’t believe that tale, necessarily, but odd things happened as he grew older. The Army sent his mother letters indicating they were looking for Jimmie. They offered conflicting information about what happened, saying some men survived but never identifying who specifically. It remained unclear if the Army was withholding that information or really didn’t know.

Tommy grew up, played college football at Texas Tech and then became a high school football coach in West Texas. Through all those years, questions about what really happened to his father gnawed at him, but he never made an effort to seek answers.

He knew that inside a large wooden trunk at the edge of his mother’s bed was a lot he didn’t know about his father – a collection of letters Jimmie wrote to his wife from war, detailing the emotions and thoughts he wanted on paper if he never had the chance to deliver them in person – and possibly even some evidence to piece together a case about what happened in ’44 and what had transpired since. Tommy saw that trunk and always dodged the urge to open it.

When Tommy’s mother died in 1992, he and his wife Nancy inherited the trunk, and it found another resting place, this time in his home, to sit unopened. For two years, Tommy ignored it while Nancy was mesmerized what might be in that big box. It was more than letters, surely; it was the plug to the hole in Tommy’s life. Finally, in 1994, Nancy asked Tommy if she could open it and dig through the contents by herself. Tommy said fine.

Nancy started reading the letters and became ever more engrossed with not only Jimmie, but the other men who supposedly went down in that plane too. She began making phone calls and trying to track down information. Most of her attempts failed to produce anything of significance.

After six years, Nancy was ready to quit the search when she came across Pat Scannon, a scientist who had been six years deep into a personal journey to find that plane. Scannon made numerous trips to the islands on exploration missions of sorts, keeping notebooks on what he found and relentlessly seeking sources that might be able to help piece together the truth or at least a passable semblance of it.

Early on, there’s no dominating motive for Scannon other than his own fascination with scientific mysteries, but as he keeps on, he becomes pulled by a strong obligation to honor the soldiers who went missing. He devoted countless money and time into something lacking a tangible benefit but whose intangible reward suddenly became powerful and enthralling.

After becoming immediately hooked on Tommy’s story and the search for his father, I now find myself much more interested in Scannon as a character. I still feel compelled to know what happened to Jimmie, but more in the sense that the book would feel incomplete without knowing.

For Scannon, it’s something more. I’d be bothered if the resolution to his request isn’t revealed, because there are so many questions about why he’s doing this that “patriotic obligation” doesn’t sufficiently answer.

Wedged in between those two narratives are a lot of nuts-and-bolts World War II history, meticulously reported by Hylton and interesting to even the moderate history person. Because of Hylton’s easy storytelling ability, you don’t need to be totally fascinated by history in order to enjoy this part of the book.

Still, the history is a distant third among my interests. I’m not nearly engaged with what actually happened to this plane during the war as I am with what happened to Jimmie Doyle in relation to his son Tommy and what void remains in Scannon’s own life to compel him to see this through.

Those are the two answers I’m seeking from here on out in “Vanished.”

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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2 Responses to A new book review style and Vanished, part 1

  1. Pingback: Vanished, part II: The end for the Arnett airmen | Western Sideline

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