Exit A: A Novel by Anthony Swofford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When you are trapped, would you wait it out? Or would you find a way to get out?
Swofford takes another turn as he made his debut novel - a different genre from his memoirs as a marine. From Jarhead to Exit A, he put an element of first love, of Bonnie and Clyde and of conflict between nations.
Started in 1989, the novel is about Severin Boxx, son of an Air Force Colonel-trainer and Virginia Sachiko-Kindwall, daughter of the General that oversees Exit A and its enormous American air force base on the outskirts of Tokyo. Exit A is considered as the gateway to the outside world, of conflicts of Cold War, of North Korean plans to infiltrate Japan, and of its keys outside autonomy. We see that there is civilization outside - neon lights, warehouses, TV and noodle shops and Bonnie and Clyde - the most famous flick during that time.
Severin, a 17 year-old, is apparently inlove with Virginia Kindwall. The latter, being the general's daughter, is smart but defiant, thus became a petty criminal in the Japanese underworld. After Severin's rebellion with anonymity - putting Virginia's middle name as tattoo, quitting football in the middle of the game, and thrusting himself into her world, he is trapped in a trouble that is, for a teenager, way unmanageable and very much different from Bonnie and Clyde.
With a twist in the circumstance, their teenage romance ended abruptly and was reconnected by a mismanaged marriage, stale postcard, and Hideko. Soon, Severin, at his mid-thirties, embarked on a journey to find Virginia, rekindle their connections and bring her home.
Poignant and dark, Exit A is a tale of entrapment, of being jaded, and finally, of being found.
I first encountered the novel (paperback version) as a goodbuy in a Booksale branch near our residence. Though this is not part of 1001 books to read before you die, let alone part of my current group's 100 books to read for 2011-2012 (The Filipino Group in goodreads), I gave this affordable book a shot. In addition, it would not hurt if I do a fastpaced read on this, given it is thinner than my other classic novels to read on my shelf.
Part 1 is the introduction of the story and thus makes the story dragging. I am not an avid fan or war games, or of war in itself, but the scenarios described made me immersed in the story. The stiffness of the soldiers, the petty criminals, as well as the big-time kidnappers roaming some of Japan's metropolis made me realize that whatever we have here in my home city is the same as what in theirs.
Part 2 depicts the new life of Virginia and her defining moment as an adult, and elaborates the life of Severin as a PhD graduate mowing the lawn and trapped in a bizzare patient of his wife, thus inflicting a damage in their slowly dying marriage.
Part 3 makes the adventures of Severin as a middle-aged man as he looks for a way to meet Virginia and send her to her true family - her dad.
What was touching in the end is the moment when Virginia finally accepted her father into her heart, making herself whole, and Severin completing his quest. I was a bit dismayed by its open-ended angle with Severin and his unfinished business with his psychoanalyst wife, but he is determined that he is to answer those questions - with Virginia. Call it a fairy tale, but Swofford, in a way, admits this belief: no one cannot forget their first love, especially if it is true.
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