Without Leave

Written by Deborah Fleming
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1967 San Francisco, Seaman David Shields is on shore leave from the USS Loyola, having returned from service in the Western Pacific. He sits on a grassy hillside park and, encouraged by other people’s singing and guitar playing, he starts to croon. Diane, a flower child, is drawn to him. They discover they have much in common. Both are from Ohio and didn’t finish school due to unfortunate circumstances. While Diane is disillusioned with the period’s mores and is living in a commune, David is distraught with his naval service. Although only halfway through his hitch, he is considering deserting. Diane tempts him: “We have room, if you need a place to stay. Got a sleeping bag?” David accepts and extends his liberty both from the Navy and at the enclave. But with conflicts developing with his new ‘friends,’ and Navy chasers on his trail, his idyllic life can’t last indefinitely.

Deborah Fleming has set this heartbreaking love story during the turbulent late 1960s, the era of the Vietnam War and student unrest. The details of life on an aircraft carrier and the antics of sailors on shore leave are both mesmerizing and hilarious. The desires, aspirations, and disappointments among the youth of the period are well illustrated. Scenes of life in the commune bring readers into the lives of the residents there, sharing their tokes. Although covered in more detail than seems necessary for the plot, the student riots at Ohio State and the actions of the National Guard are narrated well. In particular, a scene depicting the famous photograph flashed around the world, of a girl kneeling with outstretched arms, is skillfully embedded in the story. Despite the unimpressive cover, the novel would be of great interest to those wanting to learn about this turbulent period, especially members of the younger generation who didn’t live through it.