When the novel begins in 1967 in Oklahoma, the university boys are not concerned with world issues. Their goal is to pledge a fraternity. How Chipper and Peach accomplish this allows the author, whose light wit evokes P.G. Wodehouse, to caricature the personalities who support and oppose them. Drywall is the Native American with a fine tenor. Smokey Ray is the cool guy who proves there is intelligent life in the frat universe. The female characters are extraordinary. Amy, an entrepreneur who sells jukeboxes, proved in high school that “her compass was stronger than Chipper’s.” Cassie is a self-taught ballerina, and Aurora is a rich rebel.
The action picks up when Smokey Ray hatches a revenge plot against the resident bully, Blackjack. Issues creep in as the war begins to take a personal toll. Hollingsworth achieves emotional subtlety describing Chipper’s reaction to a group of inductees awaiting their tour of Vietnam. They choke up hearing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Chipper pictures every third man dead, and realizes he’ll never be able to tell the story. “One more word,” cautions the invisible hand squeezing his throat.
The author shows profound psychological insight, such as Smokey Ray’s description of a narcissist as a shell. Smokey could have turned evil too, like Blackjack, but he “learned to make the dark the sculptor of the light.”