Ringel, Lance. “Flower of Iowa”, Lance Ringel, 2020.
War and Romance
Set in the four years that wrecked Europe and brought about the end of an era, Lance Ringel’s “Flower of Iowa” is a story of war and romance during the First World War. We are taken to France during the last months of World War I and meet idealistic American soldier Tommy Flowers from Iowa who struggles to become a good soldier in the trenches. He meets Nicole Lacroix, a French barmaid and becomes involved with both her and his Australian lieutenant, Jamie Colbeck. Tommy also becomes best friends with a young British soldier, David Pearson with whom that friendship becomes sexually intimate. Both men are confused with how they feel for one another. They do everything but then David is wounded and sent to England to recover.
Filled with wonderful detail, we get a look at a time when two men in love suffered in the eyes of society as well as a look at World War I that we have not really seen before. Homophobia was rampant at the time. Written in stunning prose and deeply researched, I felt the gamut of emotions as I read especially the lack of feeling to belong as seen in the two soldiers. There was not just the fear of war but the fear of ostracism that accompanied them as they grew together. Even though their love gave them a sense of solace when they were together, they were well aware of societal pressure surrounding them.
This is a gorgeous character study of two men who leap to life from the pages of the book. We read as Tommy changes from the naive youth to a man who sees war as an adventure. David is both shy and strong and is not sure how to deal with his feelings for Tommy yet the love between the two is strong. We get a look at two men in love that is very real and that reminds us of how lucky we are to have the freedoms that we have today.
Tommy had never really faced his sexuality and this was probably due to his youth and the way he was raised in rural America. He really knew nothing about homosexuality aside from it being condemned (and we are not really sure if he even knew that). The focus, however, is not on the physical relationship between him and David but on the way homosexuality was regarded.
The relationship developed slowly yet once it became part of the two men, it becomes an affirmation of love (and not sex). I love that Tommy remained the same kind of innocent man he had been before he met David. Tommy, on the other hand, willingly came into the relationship without feelings of regret or fear. He is aware of societal pressure but he is also very aware of his own feelings of love for Tommy. Because they came together
during a war, their hardships are compounded yet they never lose their feelings for one another. Their love for each other, got them through whatever they faced in battle and in life.
We have many characters for whom we develop intense feelings and as we move toward the final pages of this epic novel, I found myself loathe to see it end.