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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Red Rover

I really expected to like this novel a lot. I'll go a step farther and say that I really wanted to like this novel - and that's probably why I'm a little disappointed in it. According to the New York Times, Red Rover is a very personal novel to its author, Deirdre McNamer, a story that she at first intended to tell as nonfiction but decided to flesh out as fiction in order to "to create a larger narrative context." It is a story about her uncle, a former FBI agent during World War II who suffered a mysterious death after the war. The local coroner gave conflicting opinions about the death and McNamer's family never really accepted the official verdict that the death was most likely to have been the result of a tragic accident.

Red Rover focuses on brothers Aiden and Neil Tierney, two young men who grew up in Montana in the 1920s, a time when it was not all that unusual that young boys would be allowed to explore the Montana prairies alone on horseback for days at a time. The Tierney boys never lost their love of adventure, and after Pearl Harbor each of them took a role in the defense of his country. Both men survived the war and returned to Montana after their service, Aiden as an FBI agent assigned to do dangerous undercover work in Argentina and Neil, as a pilot who flew B-29 missions in the Pacific.

Neil, the younger of the two, soon established a new life for himself in post-war Montana but Aiden, who returned an embittered man, appeared to be slowly dying of some mysterious disease that he brought home with him from Argentina. When Aiden threatened to go public with his grievances against the FBI, the agency sent an old friend, and fellow agent, Roland Taliaferro, to talk some sense into him. Roland's efforts to calm his friend down ended suddenly when Aiden was found dead, the victim of what appears to be either a self-inflicted shotgun blast or of some terrible accident. Neil Tierney refuses to accept either possibility and remains convinced that his brother has been eliminated at the orders of someone within the FBI. But, of course, life goes on, and it is only a chance meeting between Taliaferro and Neil in a rehabilitation center some six decades later that finally reveals the truth about Aiden's death.

Red Rover, a grim story filled with flawed characters, is told through flashbacks to 1927, 1939 and 1946, and flashes forward to 2003. The plot is, at times, difficult to follow and loses some continuity as new characters move in and out of the specific periods of time in which the story is told. But despite being presented in a dry manner, and with so many breaks in time that its choppiness distracts from the story its author wants to tell, Red Rover paints a clear picture of life in Montana during the first half of the twentieth century and is worth a look.

Rated at: 3.0
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