A simple, straight-faced love story about a brave coward and a scarlet woman drives actor Wilder's touching debut novel. (His memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger
, appeared last year.) It's 1918, and Paul Peachy, an unassuming train conductor and amateur actor in Milwaukee, finds his marriage has run out of steam, and decides to enlist as a dough boy. At nearly 30, Paul has seen little of the world, as his naïve and candid dispatches from the French trenches make clear. Paul, who speaks German, is brought in to interrogate notorious German spy Harry Stroller. Soon sent into the front line, Paul deserts and, in an extraordinary sequence, passes himself off as Harry Stroller. Taken to the local schloss
and treated like royalty by the German officials, Paul is given a French whore, Annie Breton, for comfort, and he gradually comes to care for her once she reveals herself to him more than physically. Despite some ensuing heroism, the game's soon up for Peachy, and the novel takes the form of the final, eloquent notebook of a man still finding out who he is. (Mar.)
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