deckardcanine (deckardcanine) wrote,

Book Review: No Time for Sergeants

A member of my extended family felt like giving away a lot of books. I picked this one off the shelf because it had a familiar title. Indeed, it became a movie I might have watched if I didn’t read the Mac Hyman book first. What really sold me was the blurb asserting that the critic laughed till he cried. It occurred to me that 1950s hilarity might not fly today, but it was worth a shot.

I still don’t know where the title came from. At no point does any character say it, nor does it seem to fit anyone’s attitude. But the story does have a military focus.

Will Stockdale is a Georgia bumpkin. His diction reminded me of Huck Finn, which inspired me to read most of the book out loud to myself. I haven’t done that in a long time.

Right from the start, as Will gets involuntarily drafted, it’s clear that he doesn’t take the Armed Forces as seriously as they take themselves. Unlike his superiors, I wouldn’t call him rebellious; he simply has adopted an easygoing outlook that he hopes will prompt others to do the same. And despite first-person narration, he doesn’t understand the situation like the readers do; he keeps taking sarcasm and figurative language literally and otherwise misreading emotional cues.

I’m pretty sure Will’s not on the autistic spectrum, just ditzy. Nor does he realize he’s ditzy, because he’s known several people no smarter than himself. He can have moments of cleverness or, more likely, physical impressiveness, which have about equal chances of getting him into more trouble or less—not that he tends to perceive trouble as such. Sometimes he’s quick to go with the flow, and sometimes he’s insufferably stubborn, but he tries to be polite. On the whole, I’d call him lucky.

I should warn you that the narrator uses the N-word in a few places, as do a few other White guys. Mercifully, Will holds no antipathy toward Black people, even if the sight of a Black officer completely takes him aback. (His buddy Ben, who badly wants to make a good impression, warns him never to notice an officer’s race again.) Only one other Black character turns up, and very briefly; he might be taken as a caricature, tho I’m not sure his one unfortunate trait counts as a stereotype. At any rate, neither he nor the officer comes across as suckier than average for the cast.

You might assume from the draft that a war is going on, but Will says nothing about one. Due to his actions, he rarely gets anything like training for battle, mainly just latrine duty or assignment to an outfit fit for Sergeant Bilko. That’s one way to keep the subject ripe for humor. I suppose he might see action after getting transferred from the Air Force to the infantry, but we never got a sequel.

Speaking of sergeants (yes, I’m making time), part-time supervisor Sergeant King finds Will to be quite the career curse, which Will, of course, never picks up on. I’d feel sorry for King if he weren’t such a jerk about it, attempting unruly means to get Will out of his hair.

Lo and behold, I chuckled out loud a few times. From me, that’s high praise for a book. I do seem to have a thing for comedies set in boot camps—even unpopular ones don’t bother me—but if you’re not like that, you may still want to check it out for some different fare. I suspect that the film adaptation loses a good deal in translation.

Since that reading was basically devoid of females, I’ve move on to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Here’s a book whose movie I did see, but I heard the two versions don’t have much in common.
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