Now Silence : A Novel of World War ll
During World War II, New Mexico was at the crux of matters both military and scientific; with air bases, Japanese internment camps, multiple military regiments, and scientific enclaves such as Los Alamos all within its borders, there are undoubtedly many tales of the time yet to be told. Shepard attempts to bring together several such stories in Now Silence.
Senio and Melo, from the 200th Army Artillery, are among the few New Mexicans to have survived the horrendous Bataan Death March of 1942 and, when Shepard’s story begins, are suffering in the Cabantuan prison camp in the Philippines. Back in New Mexico, relatives await word from the prisoners. We see the changed lives of Santa Fe residents, with mysterious well-dressed strangers coming and going from the hotel La Fonda on trips to Dr. Oppenheimer’s laboratory in the hills north of the city; there’s also a cult of St. Germain, the “I AM” group, distributing pamphlets in the city Plaza. A third thread in this tangled tale belongs to Phyllis, a red-headed bombshell estranged from her family in Aberdeen, Scotland, and who drinks and sleeps her way from Canada to Florida, then to Santa Fe, for reasons which don’t quite add up.
The stories of the prisoners, the secret agents, and scientists are of historical interest, but the greater portion of the book focuses on sex between strangers, the schemes of angry women, and character “development” that is anything but believable. Had Shepard kept closer to the facts (some of which she gets terribly wrong, including background information on the dates of American engagement in Europe), she would have had a much better creation. Some stiff editing would have helped her at times over-flowery, at times stilted, prose. The upshot is that I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more (better) fiction on this topic.