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Father War

     Young John Spenser sets out to follow in the footsteps of his missing father - duty, honor, country - only to discover decades later that coming face to face with a flesh and blood idol can have dreadful consequences -- for him, his idol, and the woman both men left behind.

Plot/Idea: 6 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 7.50 out of 10


Plot/Idea: The intriguing plot that is dominated by the flawed personalities of the two protagonists. There can, at times, be an imbalance in the pacing when it spends too much time on battlefield history.

Prose: Told in the third-person, the prose is evocative, suspenseful in parts, and showcases the bitterness of unrealized glory. There is an underlying sense of tragedy that seeps into every aspect of the tale.

Originality: This book takes a clever approach, in which the battle that neither protagonist fights in becomes central to both their lives.

Character Development/Execution: The novel is dominated by John Spenser and Jack Hagan, who are both expertly drawn. While neither man is at all likable, the reader will feel a mixture of pity, embarrassment, and disgust for both. The myriad of soldiers that Spenser interviews for his book feel unflinchingly real.

Date Submitted: May 25, 2022

Doherty’s debut novel focuses on a father and son embroiled in the messiness of war, honor, and country in mid-20th century America. The narrative begins in 1945, with young John Spenser waiting for his father to come back home from the front. Many years later his father does show up, but with a new woman in tow, leaving little Spenser and his mother to their own devices. Fast forward to the 1960s, when Spenser is fighting at the front in Vietnam—an experience of war and disillusionment that brings father and son together briefly, before their connection is severed forever.

The novel is aptly named for the overarching themes of fatherhood and war that span its pages. Doherty effectively layers complex issues, including intergenerational relationships and the anguish of combat, and his prose is full of vivid imagery that will transport readers from the barren crossroads of Vietnam to the post-war bunkers of Germany and the pines of Old Camp Palmer. Doherty evokes an insider’s understanding of the intricacies and effects of war—an eye-opening revelation that is evident in his characters’ reactions to the death and destruction surrounding them. The speech of Doherty’s main players bears a convincing cadence and power–“I’m nothing but grudges. Grudges are my meat and potatoes”—and the combat scenes are particularly striking.

Some readers may find the constant perspective switching to be disorienting, and some narrative sections come across as vague: Doherty errs on the side of subtlety, the writing so nuanced that at times readers may miss key plot points. But overall, this is a gripping novel that hurtles between different time periods, travels from one corner of the world to another, and sweeps readers into a cross-continental journey of lingering heartache. This is so much more than a war novel.

Takeaway: A lyrical and sweeping story of combat, family, and survival that will resonate with fans of historical fiction.

Great for fans of: Michael Herr’s Dispatches, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B