Aboard a Dallas commuter train, a Marine battles his memories, his loves, and his life as he continues to search for the woman he lost four times, despite attending her funeral.
Growing up in the Midwest and weaned on the TV-glow of the Vietnam War, Brick is driven to join the military. His churchy high school girlfriend, Cameo, follows in his footsteps towards the Air Force Academy. Her vow to remain chaste until graduation is robbed by the medical technician conducting her physical. Brick's rage at Cameo's lack of willingness to alert authorities tears them apart as she goes on to become the first woman appointed to the academy.
With his head down, bulling through various global assignments, Brick's version of the American dream is the salvation of combat. Unfulfilled, the troubled Marine resigns on the eve of Black Monday where he pursues a string of noxious civilian jobs and bristles unsettled in the burbs, supporting his wife, Selma, in nursing school until evidence surfaces of her affair.
Unable to think clearly, Brick discovers Cameo is posted back home and haphazardly tumbles face first into a turbulent affair with the high-ranking officer on the fast track to general. What Brick doesn't know is he will be the spark to ignite a powder keg revealing her provocative past.
Professionally written, the story has many strengths: It brings readers satisfyingly into the action with its realistic first-person narrative. The characters are layered and believable, delivering convincing dialogue (Brick’s life-long romance with Cameo is a particularly skillful part of the story). The narrative switches smoothly between the flashbacks and present timeline on the train, creating a compelling pace.
5 of 5 stars
Keen observations are powerful and build a sense of imagery to reveal how one man’s struggles have shaped his perspective.
Author R. M. A. Spears explores themes of machismo and being a man, while shedding light on military culture, in this masterful story of one man’s struggle to overcome the events that built his armor of glass. Based on a true story, Armor of Glass is a gripping and heartrending novel about one man’s war with his memories, his loves, and his life.
Eli rides the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit). As he travels past stations, nodding in and out of sleep, his mind flashes through events of his life that include sexual abuse, disastrous adult relationships, his stints with various military associations that toughened him up, and his complicated, long-lasting friendship with a woman named Cameo.
Spears’s tight writing and detailed descriptions capture the complexity of protagonist Eli. He is dubbed “Brick” by his uncle because his head is, as his mother describes, “like a jawbreaker candy.” This nickname is also appropriate because Brick does his best to get through life by building a wall around himself to cope with his experiences of growing up, navigating through military and civilian life, and being a man—“Men don’t like to open up or emote; we don’t do well with emotions.”
The pace of the narrative captures Eli’s presence on the train. Spears conveys Eli’s tension through the short, clipped sentences and the hypervigilant observations: “a probable illegal” handing out the daily paper; the silent race between train regulars as they hurry to the best spot on the train; and “watch[ing] without appearing to do so.” The cryptic description of Eli—“Have to be conscious of my surroundings, everything within sight and sound, as trained, and to elicit her eyes hunting mine, if there”—sets up the mysterious aspect of this novel as Eli’s relationship with Cameo runs its course.
At times, the images in the protagonist’s stream of consciousness, such as, “dark red pores bored into me, projected from beyond the blacked windshield fore me,” are somewhat obscure, though they are often clearer once the story unfolds. The time frame is also a little unclear because it hops around. However, this is a minor quibble given the strong characterization and deft descriptions of the episodes that make for a stirring read. The memories alternately lull the reader into some idyllic moments (“Baking from scratch was Mom’s loyalty to the old tastier ways before box mixes and frozen dinners”), only to shock them later with brutal images. For example, with the episode where Eli is in battle amid explosions with Private Adams, suddenly, “a fountain of Adams sprayed over me.”
Eli’s keen observations on men’s roles (“Boys play hurt. Men play broken. Men work hurt. Men live broken. It’s the way of the world.”) and morality are candid and hard-hitting: “Parables in the Bible were valuable and precious, but only if everyone else went along with them.” While these statements and observations are powerful and thought-provoking, Spears manages to offer a truly gripping image in the account of eleven-year-old Eli’s brutal rape by his Little League coach, where the author censors the description by blacking out parts of several sentences.
In Armor of Glass, a man relives the events that shaped his cynical view of life. It’s a skillfully crafted literary read.
Spears’ long, illustrious military career gives him a clear knowledge of his source material. Indeed, the most compelling parts of the novel are those in which he provides insight into the mindset of a Marine, with deft descriptions such as, “Marines slaughter on command, taking control of the chaos.”
"Armor of Glass is one of the most realistic love stories I have ever read. There are no happy endings, no happily ever after. There is only life and learning to live through the bad and to enjoy the good while taking the time to reminisce about love lost. R.M.A. Spears has crafted an emotionally intense novel that had me hooked from page one."
- " This story is a contemporary romance told from a man’s point of view and what a refreshing story it is...If you are looking for a summer novel to read, you don’t have to look any further than Armor of Glass: A Novel - it is fantastic."
"...a riveting love story laced with corruption and sexual misconduct that prevails in the Air Force...passion and emotions expressed by the author are stark and there is an element of mystery surrounding the character of Brick Pace. All the characters are powerful and the twists and turns in the plot are unexpected, which adds to the intrigue of the story."
"R.M.A. Spears, the author of Armor of Glass, presents Brick’s story in the first person, making it intensely personal, as though he is having a long conversation with the reader. There are plenty of surprises. While reading, you will feel anger, sadness, frustration and you will probably even laugh. If you like romance, a sprinkling of military talk and a lot of drama, you will enjoy Armor of Glass."
R.M.A. Spears presents in Armor of Glass a story of internal confusion, pain and loss. It is a lasting story... those who look closely, such stories bring understanding and insight. Armor of Glass is such a story... a genuine tragedy, honestly told."
R.M.A. Spears is a retired marine with a decorated career that spans 27 years in both the US Marine Corps and the US Navy. This wealth of experience is what enabled Spears to write Armor of Glass, the story of a marine at the end of his rope, who gets caught up in an affair with a high-ranking woman with a troubled past biting at her heels. Military Writers recently featured Spears on their website, adding it to their list of noteworthy army novels.