Depending on what one believes a novel ought to be, one could either praise P. S. Wilkinson for not being ridden into the ground by its "theme" or attack it because it muddies its own waters by digressions and (on a smaller scale) incongruous witticisms which one suspects are in the book because the author just couldn't resist them. In any case, it is not always easy to decide when the novel is simply trying to tell its hero's story and when it is trying to develop a structural idea…. [The] idea here seems to be the conflict between a man's own insights and standards and those that are officially imposed, whether by a tradition-defined Old Family, by a prep school that inflexibly worships its half-hollow Honor Code, by an Army that demands of its officers a ludicrous sense of noblesse, by government service, or by marriage. Thus most of the episodes in the book can be thought of as explorations either of personal dilemmas or of institutional ethics.
Oddly enough, in view of Bryan's sympathies and his point, he does better by institutions than by people, at least in making them convincing. He writes best when his subject is a well-defined milieu like the prep school or Baltimore or the Army; indeed, veterans of the peacetime Army will find that Bryan has portrayed truthfully and without satiric distortion the peculiar dreamlike misplacement of emphasis that consistently characterizes Army life.
(The entire section is 483 words.)