Tuesday, July 3, 2018

'I'm not enthusiastic about crawling around in front of the enemy with a lunatic'

Leonard H. Nason is the pulp laureate of World War I, but instead of lamenting the losses and horrors he makes comedy of the conflict's chaos. "The Friend of His Youth" (Adventure, April 1, 1927) is one of the most bizarre Nason stories I've read to date. It's the story of a relatively inconsequential patrol turned into a living hell for one Lt. Lipp of the U.S. Army by his encounter with one Sgt. Sheehan, nee Wladichesnikov of Weehawken. "The facial angle, the shape of the nose and the curly hair that escaped from under the too large helmet proclaimed that the sergeant belonged to a race which, though not without honor, is more celebrated for its commercial abilities than for its prowess in battle," Nason narrates from the point of view of Lt. Sewall, an anxious bystander to Sheehan's feud with Lipp, nee Lipovitschky. Lipp denies knowing Sheehan, who would get on a man's nerves whether you knew him before or not, regardless of his record of heroism in battle. Nason seems to forget about that record as Sheehan seems to go literally insane in his obsession with Lipp, inviting sniper rounds as he raves loudly at his (imagined?) antagonist as the patrol searches for stray Germans to take prisoner and discovers a boat the Germans use to send their own patrols into No Man's Land. I was surprised to see Sheehan and Lipp call each other "kikes," which is one of those words the sometimes fastidious Arthur Sullivant Hoffman saw fit to print in his magazine while censoring every "hell" or "damn." They lose Lipp along the way but recover him unwittingly, mistaking him for a German and clobbering him in the boat. On the bright side, the patrol captures a genuine German, though he's actually a Polish-American who got drafted after his mother took him back to the old country, and he happily tells the Americans all they need to know. In the end, Lipp's reputation is ruined to save Sewell's, while Sheehan raves, "Say something dirty kikes now! I says, but all he could say was 'glub.'" With this one Nason takes the chaos of war to the point where it doesn't quite make sense, but I suppose that was his idea all along. It's too far over the top for my taste, but it's still an entertaining war story from one of the best at that particular game.

1 comment:

  1. It's been a long time since i commented here, and wanted to say i enjoy reading your summaries, and read a few stories myself thanks to your calling them out here. Keep up the good work.

    I agree with you on this story. I've been reading quite a few Nason stories recently, and while his early Adventure work is excellent in general, the Sheehan series is just not up to par. The idea of taking a Jewish soldier and portraying him as a fish out of water in the army feels stereotypical and doesn't allow for good characterization. Sheehan is more an object of fun than anything else, and the dialect talk doesn't help things.

    I would advise skipping these stories, there are much better Nason stories to be found in early Adventure. A few of my favorites:

    Five Hundred Francs (ss) Adventure Dec 10 1923
    Pilgrim’s Progress (ss) Adventure Oct 30 1923
    The Roofs of Verdillot (ss) Adventure Jun 8 1926

    If you can get it cheap, The man in the white slicker, a combination detective/war novel is an excellent description of the fog of war. It's a straight line from Nason's stories to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, one of my favorite books.

    Any chance of you attending Pulpfest this year?