In keeping with the conventions of the picaresque novel, Turvey is a realistic figure but at the same time a humorous re-creation of the author’s experience and those of hundreds of soldiers whom he interviewed during World War II. Earle Birney described his intentions plainly: “My central character was going to be a dumb backwoods private, an innocent born for trouble, a youth with the cheerfulness and reckless morale of a hero but with the intellectual and soldierly capacities of a farmyard duck.” Yet Turvey is far from static as he gradually recognizes his place in the machinery of war. Just as he has a nervous habit of grinning whenever he is anxious, so he carries with him an innate common sense to balance his gullibility; whether Turvey realizes his ironic stance, it is the principal vehicle for the satire which is the ground note of the novel.
Initially, Turvey appears to be a simple victim of circumstances, usually reflected physically (he fractures his ankle in basic training because of a mistake by a literal-minded sergeant; a night orderly absently paints him with the wrong potion to prevent venereal disease). Yet after he is fired at by a fellow recruit, he is easily persuaded to hitchhike to Buffalo, New York, to spend the weekend illegally with two women. Turvey can and will cope with his newly disciplined life but always with his own logic, which invariably gets him into further trouble. Never passive in response to the powers which dictate his three years in the army, Turvey increasingly manages to turn military follies, however well-intentioned, to his own ends, however dimly perceived.
Mac is both the object of Turvey’s almost romantic quest for action and the catalyst for...
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