Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Home to Eden: Full Measure a novel by T. Jefferson Parker

Full Measure is a great story of military and farming culture in contemporary Southern California. Patrick Norris returns from duty as a Marine in Afghanistan and musters out of service at Camp Pendleton. With very little time to make the transition to civilian life, Patrick returns home to his family’s avocado farm in Fallbrook that has been decimated by a fire. From warrior to farmer is a move eased somewhat by familiarity with surroundings and acquaintances. But, of course, Pat’s perspective has changed permanently because of war and he has plans for the future that do not include avocado farming.

In the early pages of the novel, this scenario looks the well-worn plot of many post war novels. Soon readers realize that familiar themes of readjusting and reviving old complicated family relationships take on an unmistakable post-911 chronic tension. Pat and his Marine buddies’ have had experiences in a war that at first glance seems like those of the Vietnam veterans in the 1970s. T. Jefferson Parker captures the difference in an excellent portrait of the strength of Pat’s character as he recalls the killing, death, loss, and haunting emotions of duty symbolized by the random destruction of improvised explosive devices. Patrolling the desert through ancient cultures wondering why some Marines were blown up and he survived, Pat has to conclude that coming home from Afghanistan is a matter of senseless luck. “Thank you for your service.” Right.

In addition to that wonderful description of contemporary war and its aftermath, Parker pays homage to Nobel Prize winning author, John Steinbeck by exploring themes of father and son legacies with designated favorite son and bad seed, generational separation from agricultural life, uneasy enculturation of racial groups, violent civilian factions gaining strength in periods of reconstruction, dreams lost by some and found by others, and the reaching of a separate peace for some and self-destruction by others. The full measure of a person is sufficient for some characters to find a place in the culture good or bad and for others to fall short on all accounts.

This is an excellent novel and you can see that it brings to mind Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. Like the Nobel Prize winner, the realism of the portrayal of Pat’s war experiences and adjustment to civilian life set the stage for the beautifully written scenes of the biblical/psychological interaction of the characters, meaning/acceptance in an apparently chaotic period of history.

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