Reviewed: “The Glad River” by Will D. Campbell

The best kind of book, in my humble opinion, is the one you discover without knowing you were looking for it. That happens in bookstores, at used book sales, online, and occasionally in boxes in someone’s garage. That last one is how I found The Glad River by Will D. Campbell. I saved the book from being gotten rid of, because it mentioned World War II and Guadalcanal on the dust jacket, and decided to give it a try earlier this week. The investment of nothing more than space in my closet resulted in my having already finished a book that I really did not want to put down.

The Glad River is the story of Claudy “Doops” Momber, Kingston Smylie, and Fordache “Model T” Arcineau. These three young men are from the same geographic area, the southeastern part of the United States, but that’s really all they have in common. Doops is an unbaptized Baptist while Kingston and Model T are Catholics. Doops comes from a upstanding family while Kingston is mixed race and Model T is a son of the Cajun bayous. What binds them together, in a “neighborhood,” is the US Army. They do their basic training together, Doops and Kingston being the only ones having the patience to befriend Model T, and the end up Guadalcanal together.

Never completely steady mentally, Doops falls further into mental anguish when he’s separated from his fellow soldiers, accidentally captures a Japanese soldier (although he’s never quite sure of the details about the soldier), and ends up with a wide variety of tropical diseases. Model T is gruesomely injured, but survives to be reunited with his friends again.

As the war ends, the three friends spend as much time together as they can. Until Model T is accused of, found guilty of, and executed for murder.

It seems simple, but it’s not.

The author, according the bio on the dust jacket, was/is a Baptist priest and the story is very heavy on that but that’s not all the story is. It’s about a nation and the first decades of the 20th century and how they define us. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, the wars, religious prejudices, social prejudices … it’s all there in stark, perfect detail.

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