Again I interrupted my reading of Cryptonomicon because I made the happy discovery that Ward Carroll’s new novel, Punk’s Wing, was finally out.
His first novel, Punk’s War was a real find. With its dark humor and focus on men trying to survive their job, it reminded me of The Mushroom Shift, my law enforcement novel which is metaphorically in my closet under a pair of old bowling shoes. It also has a plot device I like so much that I plan to steal it someday (SPOILER: highlight area with mouse to read): a character who is totally incompetent in his given station is taken out of that station by being promoted to something higher that he obviously did not deserve.
For details on what I thought of Punk’s Wing, you can check out its entry in my Book Blog. What I wanted to do now was say something nice about another writer, since the only mention I’ve made of others recently was taking both Stephen King and Harold Bloom to task over the National Book Foundation Award flap.
Punk’s Wing is Carroll’s sophomore novel, but there’s not a whole lot to complain about. The dust jacket copy doesn’t do the novel justice – it’s more about integration of female pilots into Naval Aviation, which isn’t even mentioned in Signet’s copy; there’s one scene focusing on Muddy (a female pilot who has the attention of an influential Senator) where Punk wasn’t present that I felt he could have and should have been in; and he uses the dreaded As You Know… device that I often rail against. But these are quibbles, and they’re all editorial things that are hard to blame on the author.
Carroll has many gifts as a writer. One is his ability to take you through the world of Naval Aviation without getting bogged down in jargon and technospeak. In Punk’s Wing he makes deft use of a “Why” character, a Senatorial aide, to take us through the details and rigors of training pilots to land on carriers.
He is also able to make the reader understand the nature of the military hierarchy, often with a well-placed simile:
If the captain was king at sea, the air boss was one of his handful of brothers who had the misfortune of being born other than first in the family. He’d never be king, but he still had power over his part of the kingdom.
That’s a nice bit of writing on Carroll’s part, and the book is filled with things like that.
There are also signs that Carroll may be an Elmore Leonard fan because of the way things happen out of the blue in his novels – a strange twist so odd that it could only happen in real life – such as Punk’s exasperated reaction to an ill-timed cell phone call from his fiance that results in consequences far from what he was seeking.
One reason writers tell new writers to keep reading is because you can learn things all the time from other writers – even newcomers like Carroll. I’ve picked up great stuff from both of his novels now – and the added bonus here is that the Punk books are a pleasure to read.
So read and learn. And with a Carroll novel, the directive is read, learn and enjoy.