Rating: 3 stars out of 5
David Stauffer, 18, joins the Marines as an escape from his drunken, abusive father and a dead end life. David had no where to go and no financial support so joining the Marines was his only option. Matthew Kendricks, 18, joins because it is expected of him as a sort of family legacy handed down from father to son. It didn’t matter that being a Marine was the last thing that Matthew wanted, he did what was expected to keep from disappointing his loving family. Two such dissimilar young men from opposite ends of the social spectrum and familial backgrounds. Yet meeting in line for boot camp will change their lives forever.
The Marine by John Simpson and Robert Cummings is a story that feels shorter than its actual 101 pages. While the first few chapters shows us the history and family situation of David and Matthew, the majority of the story takes place in boot camp at Parris Island. David Stauffer is by far the more compelling of the two main characters. A “bantam” of a man, David is short, intense, aggressive as only a young man with his background can be. His ability to fight and persevere through each and every training exercise sees David rise through his section, even with the fact that he is almost defiantly gay. Matthew, a quiet young man with almost no aptitude for military service other than his family legacy, is a harder sell. Why? Mostly because he doesn’t want to be a Marine (instead he wants to be an artist), isn’t physically fit as the others and really has not reason to be there other than he couldn’t stand up to his loving parents. Unlike the other recruits, Matthew doesn’t have to be there and so our sympathy with his situation is not as strong.
As with most typical John Simpson stories, romance is in short supply while the sexy scenes are not, which is logical given their situation and barracks living conditions. David clearly pursues Matthew to Matthew’s dismay for the first part of the story. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is over but only recently, too recently to have changed the attitudes and actions of some of the Marine officers and other soldiers so David’s attraction to Matthew puts them both in vulnerable positions. And only David is able to handle himself when it comes to fights. So Matthew’s reservations are honest ones yet David doesn’t seem to get that.
I had several issues with this story, the largest of which is that Parris Island and David and Matthew’s boot camp experience comes off as less intense and transformative as it is reported to be. One of the objectives of boot camp is to tear the man down so he can be rebuilt in the form of a Marine. That didn’t come across in the scenes or descriptions of their training. Yes, David has some arduous trials to go through but there is never any question that he will make it through. Yes, you have your grizzled sergeants, the constant “in your face” yelling and river of insults and pejorative terms, but those scenes are lacking in immediacy or believability. In fact,heat, intensity, or any type of emotional impact is lacking in a story that should be filled to the brim with exhaustion, pain, deep emotional introspection, you name it, these two men should have gone through it and I never got that here, not once.
My other issue here? That this story feels more like a bunch of chapters in a much larger story, the first half of a much larger book at that. The reader is given David and Matthew’s background, we get their training experience at Parris Island and their graduation. And then…nothing. It just ends on what felt like a lovely, but forced ending. I kept waiting for the rest of the story, their deployment, and everything that comes next. Those missing chapters and part of David and Matthew’s story would have made this book a far more realistic read and have given it a completeness that this story is lacking.
So do I recommend this story? Only as a type of adult military fairy tale. If you want a quick, lovely, story with a happy feel good ending, than you will enjoy this. However, if you have higher expectations for a story with Marines and authenticity, complete with sweat, dirt, angst, and pain, then I suggest you look elsewhere. Both John Simpson and Robert Cummings have deep military backgrounds so my expectations for this story were high, perhaps too much so. You might find yourself feeling differently about The Marines. Pick it up and decide for yourself.
Cover artist: A.J. Corza. I like the cover but the model for David should be much shorter and Matthew? He’s a ginger.
Kindle Edition, 101 pages
Published September 20th 2014 by Cool Beans Publishing & Editing