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J. C. Foster
The Roar of Ordinary
J. C. Foster, author
Coping with loss can be challenging for a lifetime. Jack thinks he may find some relief on the other side of the world. He doesn’t know for sure, but he makes the trek anyway. His destination has a tortured past, but it may hold secrets that can sooth a burdened mind. Along the way the protagonist dreams of what brought him to the here and now. It’s family, though just an ordinary one, that provided incentive, privilege, and opportunity. Events, experiences, faces, and conversations flash by. But in wakefulness Jack sees that his individual decisions and those of his relatives and friends are what influenced fate to place each of them where they presently dwell. The Roar of Ordinary is a coming of age story set in America during the twentieth century. It is an expression of love that focuses on brothers and sisters from a supportive family who face personal ordeals. Recognizable family life evolves while on a collision course with the randomness of war, given the twentieth century epoch, a time when warfare could inflict its fury on anyone. The memoir is an account of growing up in love’s embrace while military service waits in the wings followed by the fallout that combat brings. It’s a tale embracing introspection, hope, and redemption in the aftermath of loss while it scrutinizes the Vietnam tragedy and identifies lingering executive behaviors that exhibit forgetfulness regarding the lessons of Vietnam.
Foster’s illuminating coming-of-age memoir details the experiences of an American family as they face historic 20th century milestones of war and socio-cultural change. The story begins with the author’s parents and how they happened to set foot in the U.S. In the process, Foster takes us back two generations, introducing grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and cousins and siblings, all of whom have had a significant effect on Foster. As the narrative forges forward, Foster zeroes in on his sibling relationships in particular, the connections between them palpable. He eventually reveals that these relationships serve as one of the defining reasons for his memoir: to memorialize his siblings and the bond they shared.

As suggested by the title, the narrative offers an intimate glimpse into ordinary lives that of course turn out to be extraordinary in their own ways. Foster is as inclusive as he is generous with this dramatization of family history. He takes pains to show the formative impact each had on his upbringing, highlighting not just their foibles but also their strengths. Especially in the book’s focused first half, every individual backstory is one piece of a larger puzzle, coming together to paint a comprehensive picture of the author, the family, and their century.

As The Roar of Ordinary goes on, Foster delves deep into the history and politics of the Vietnam War, often laying out Foster’s opinions and convictions about what went wrong, a worthy subject for a book though here it diminishes the focus and narrative flow that he had established, though emphasis on his siblings, and on his brother Steve in particular, remains consistent. Overall, Foster succeeds in evoking a genuine regard for this ‘ordinary’ family making the best of an extraordinary century. Lovers of grand family sagas will enjoy this memoir, whose epic and ambition are laudable.

Takeaway: A memoir for readers of family sagas and war novels that is as epic as it is intimate.

Great for fans of: David Laskin’s The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, John Egerton’s Generations: An American Family.

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