Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Flanders
Patricia Anthony
Ace Books, 354 pages

Flanders
Patricia Anthony
Patricia Anthony spent the 1970s travelling as an English professor with her then-husband and two children, working at universities in Brazil and Portugal. Divorced in 1978, she settled in Dallas. There, she worked at The Dallas Morning News for 14 years while trying to get published and she taught creative writing at Southern Methodist University for three years. Her books include Cold Allies (1993), Brother Termite (1993), Conscience of the Beagle (1993), Happy Policeman (1994), Cradle of Splendor (1996), God's Fires (1997), Eating Memory (1997).   Titanic director James Cameron has optioned her second book, Brother Termite, as a possible feature film.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Advertisement
Patricia Anthony's seventh novel, Flanders, is a gritty, moving look at the reality of trench warfare in World War I. It is also the story of one man's struggle to rise above his own past and the horrors of which he finds himself a part.

Travis Lee Stanhope is a Texan volunteer in the British Army. Escaping a harsh childhood, he attended Harvard Medical School, only to feel so out of place that he sought refuge in the European war. His skill as a sharpshooter makes him a valued soldier, but his straightforward honesty is seen as either cheekiness or outright insubordination by the British officers and his fellow enlisted men. When a young woman is brutally murdered in a nearby village, suspicion falls on Travis Lee.

Flanders is written as a series of letters from Travis Lee to his younger brother Bobby back in Texas. Travis holds nothing back in his descriptions of life at the front, from rats and decaying bodies in the trenches to the pounding of artillery. We follow along as the pressures of the war eventually lead him to alcoholism. At about the same time, he begins to have visions and dreams of a mausoleum and graveyard, a peaceful place where he sees dead companions lingering, and then moving on. These visions offer hope for Travis Lee, and provide Flanders with its heart and soul.

This is a determinedly realistic look at the ugliness of World War I. The characters exhibit all the prejudices and dispositions of their time, and come off as more human for it. They lose control of their bowels during shelling, and sleep wedged into the dirt. They try to do the right thing, and too often fail. They get drunk on leave, and savour every minute away from the front.

Travis Lee's visions provide a counterpoint both for him and for the reader. The effect is transcendent, providing moments of calm and beauty among the ugliness. Travis becomes more and more concerned with his dreams and how to react to them as the novel continues from Spring to the end of 1916.

As is probably evident by now, this is not a science fiction novel. The only connection to SF is the Ace Science Fiction imprint on the cover, and the author's previous work. Conventional publishing wisdom would suggest that what Anthony is doing here is the equivalent of career suicide. Science fiction readers, they would say, won't read Flanders because it isn't science fiction. Mainstream readers will stay away because the author has been identified with SF. The result would be a book that falls through the cracks, and fails to find an audience.

That would be a shame, because Flanders is a novel well worth reading. Science fiction fans will find all the virtues of her other books here, quietly gripping prose, believable characters, and an ability to find beauty while not shrinking away from the sordid reality of much of human existence. Historical fiction readers new to Patricia Anthony will find a novel that is both true to its time, and timeless in its observations.

Patricia Anthony deserves praise for having the courage to go where her artistic sensibilities lead her. World War I, in the trenches of northern France, is the right time and place for the story of Travis Lee Stanhope. Travis haunts this novel, seeking an end to his pain, the same way his fallen comrades haunt the graveyard. Let's hope this finely-written, engrossing, and important novel finds the wide audience that it deserves.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives and reads in Minneapolis, Minnesota, land of many rapidly growing lakes. (It's been a wet Summer.) His reviews also appear in the New York Review of Science Fiction.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide