Monday, January 30, 2012

Quick Read: "Company K" by William March

Quick Read: Company K by William March, 1957 ( paper edition from Sagamore Press), LOC #57-9761.

I like WWI stories. I ran across a clip or promo for the movie version of this and decided to check it out. This copy was ILL'd from UW-Parkside. 183 pages.

March was William E Campbell. According to Literary Reference Center March joined the Marines for WWI, fought in several battles, and was awarded the DSC and Navy Cross. After the war March went into the overseas shipping business and thrived. He started writing short fiction in the '20s as therapy and Company K came out in 1933. He started writing full time in 1938. I've read that March's 1954 serial killer novel Bad Seed is his most famous. I read a description of Bad Seed and the plot sounds very familiar to something I recently read about online.

Anther source, a 1977 issue of Papers on Language and Literature, says March started writing when he was 15. That piece agrees his first short stories were therapy and first came out in '29.

Company K is written like Spoon River Anthology with many short stories told by multiple characters with no character telling more than one tale; and some telling their story from the grave. Each vignette is matter-of-fact; something that several reviewers remarked upon. Some characters are philosophical and doubting modern morality and truth. Other characters are murderous turds who believe every rumor they are told.

A key event in the novel - and one told by several characters - is the murder of a group of German prisoners. A Sergeant is commanded by an officer to kill some prisoners. He assigns a squad of automatic riflemen for the task. The corporal in charge is happy to do the job. The corporal is convinced the krauts send men over to surrender and those men then lie in wait to attack from the rear during a German attack. Another man sneaks back to rob the bodies. Others are sickened, one runs away, years later one last Marine is on death row refusing a chaplain's visit.

Like Spoon River Anthology I kept flipping back and forth trying to track down characters from story to story. An annotated edition with a complete index would be ideal. This is worth re-reading to try and connect all the characters. But, I have too many other books to get to.

1. One character is gassed and blinded. Left in a dugout he hears and feels an artillery barrage and then hears the German attack. Gas seeps into his dugout and he feels his way out, helpless. The Germans kill him. I felt sorrow for his death and then felt conflicted when a later story showed what a shit he was.
2. Lots of gas attacks.
3. Incompetent officers.
4. An officer whose pride makes him ignore an NCO's advice and gets people killed.
5. I never did get around to reading Sassoon's third novel in his autobio sequence.
6. During my freshman year at Gustavus we had a wrestling practice with Parkside during our J-term trip and I got clobbered. That was humiliating.
7. A bio of March came out in 1985 or so. I won't read it but wonder what he did during WWII. I would think his shipping experience would have been valued. Would he have wanted to re-enlist? Did he fall into the bottle like so many contemporaries?
8. EDIT: A few entries ago I was recalling that all the recent books i read had prostitutes. This did too. One soldier is encouraged to lose his virginity and is set-up with a French hooker by his pals.

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