But In the Shadow of Suribachi is more than just the sum of its parts. It’s more than just stereotypes, thorough research, and sound narrative structure. Despite the clichés, there is a certain unexpected quality to the novel. Characters you expect to see again, like the psycho who likes to burn things, never re-emerge. He might be the guy with the flamethrower, but we never know for sure. And men you didn’t meet in the opening chapters show up and suddenly take a major role in the tale. People you expect to live, die - some sooner than you think. And people you expect to die, live. Kind of like war.
Ms Faulkner really hits her stride around the book’s middle. Her prose begins to flow more naturally; her formerly wooden characters take on more depth. I think war is very difficult to portray in writing — the chaos, extremes, agonies, sights, sounds, and sensations. In her descriptions of battle, Ms Faulkner occasionally stumbles into halting exposition, but overall she is able to convey the misery of war with clarity and gore-soaked brilliance.
If you think you know how the book ends — after all, we won that war — think again. We’re suddenly whisked away mid-battle, to 1970. We see one of the surviving characters driving to Kent State to fetch his daughter, who’s been shot in the foot, where he meets an old war-buddy and a Vietnam veteran. Then leap forward another 30-odd years, to a Civil War re-enactment, where things really take a turn for the surreal.
Flaws aside, In the Shadow of Suribachi is an earnest and compassionate book. Through her story, Ms Faulkner conveys a deep interest in her subject and she writes with empathy and sincerity of a battle that should not be forgotten, and of the men who fought it.