Baker, Tom. “Green”, Lethe Press, 2017.
Let me start by saying that I am a Tom Baker fan and became so when reading and reviewing his two previous novels and his short story collection. I knew when this book arrived that it was going to be an enjoyable read and since he had told me over a year go that it was coming, I was anxious to sit down and get started. It has been a while since I read a good story about gays in the armed forces and this also seems to be an are where we could use a few more novels but I suppose that is a trade-off for our now being able to serve while being openly gay.
We begin in 1967 when Tim Halladay graduated from William and Mary (which also happens to be the author’s Alma Mater). Tim had hoped to go to Yale drama school for graduate work but the United States Army felt differently and drafted him. Because he has a college education, he is not really accepted by the other soldiers in C Company that regard him with suspicion and ridicule. (Baker’s words not mine but perfect for the sentence). Tim knows that he is gay but he knows he must also make sure that no one else does. For those of you who were around back then, you remember that for gay people the times were very different. (That same year I was leaving this country to move to Israel so I really remember very well how it was in both countries).
Tim worried all the time that someone would learn of his sexuality and Baker beautifully shows us how it was back then. It was a time when an outward show of affection or even a touch between two men could result in jail time and names published in the press.
1967 was the time of the war in Vietnam and Tim was really upset that the educational deferment that he requested was denied. Perhaps he could have tried to get out of the army by proclaiming his sexuality, but he was afraid of the repercussions that would ensue. He certainly had every right to be such. Besides, he felt the army was his civic duty and was shocked that straight men were trying to get out of service by pretending to be gay. There was a time when people were proud to be Americans and serve their country.
Tim was also aware that he might not come back from the war but he still reports for duty. It seems that from the moment he entered the service that this was not going to be easy for him and I can tell you as a veteran of The Israel Defense Forces, army life is very difficult and stressful. When you add homosexuality to that. Here was Tim with a degree from a fine university with a bunch of fellow recruits who just did not like him for that. Yet despite that, the guys managed to become friends during basic training and I can tell you that this period is really very difficult. Tim finds the friendships to be foreign and comforting at the same time and it is obvious that the foreign feeling came from hid not being able to be who he really is. Tim manages not only to succeed but to also find his place in the army, all-the- while knowing that he could only keep his identity hidden for so long.
This is Tim’s story and he tells it tip us in the first person thus making us feel that we are part of it. I was taken in immediately and read the book in one sitting and I felt very proud that I know the author. Sometimes it is very hard to review a book if you know the author but I have managed to find a way to divide friendship and criticism. Tom Baker has yet to disappoint me and if he ever does I will say so. His prose is clear and tight; often humorous but it always makes me think. I love the way he writes about the Army and what goes on there and it is as if he gives us a window into a culture that many of us do not know about. This could easily have been a war story but instead it is a story about serving in the military on home ground. Tim never gets to war and he gives us look at the inside structure of those who served but did not fight. There are other things that happen that I am not going to share because I want you to read the book. I have deliberately not said much about the plot so that you can enjoy the read as much as I did.