Gerald Cislon was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War, and made the military his career for twenty years. He dedicates his novel Gander (Xlibris, 346 pp., $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper) to soldiers who have served with the 101st Airborne Division.
Cislon, the author of a previous novel, ‘Til the End of Time, is a storyteller. His intent as a writer, he says, is to take the reader “along with him” on a journey. I took the advice on the back cover “to get a hot cup of tea,” cookies and warm socks,” and to “settle into a story that will leave [the reader] pondering long after you turn the last page.”
Even though I did as Cislon advised, I struggled with this book. I admit to having philosophical problems with alternate history as a fictional genre. In his Preface, Cislon explains where the title “Gander” came from. After he laid that out, I did vaguely remember the incident.
Cislon spins out his thriller from what happened in Gander, Newfoundland, in December 1985. A chartered American airliner crashed and 248 soldiers died. The soldiers were returning from having served one year “as a part of a 1978 peacekeeping accord between Israel and Egypt.”
Cislon goes on to say that this book is fiction and “is in no way intended to reflect on this accident.” Even so, the book seems very much a fictional reflection on this incident.
This accident or incident has produced many theories about what actually happened the day of the crash. Many have alleged a cover-up by the government. Some say the crash was related to Iran-Contra. The official explanation was “ice.”
For readers of Cislon’s ‘Til the End of Time, the author has brought back the important characters one more time. Perhaps for those readers who hunger for more of those characters this book will be your hot cup of tea. It was a hard slog for me.
A main character, Scott, is a Vietnam veteran “who vaguely remembered having served most of his time in units in South Vietnam.” There are a lot of other Vietnam War references, direct and indirect, sprinkled throughout this book. There are also a lot of religious references. My favorite is one character’s answer to the question: “What about the Christian religion?”
The answer: “Good religion, just too many false people in the pulpit talking stupid stuff and trying to see what they can get out of you.”
A problem for me was the bad editing and proofreading. An example is when Bobby Lee is referred to as “Booby Lee.” A few pages later a character named Charlie is buried at sea wrapped in a tarp, “weighted down with scarp medal.” I asked a Navy friend about this, and was told that the author was most likely going for “scrap” metal. Close, but not close enough. These problems start on the dedication page where “served” is spelled “severed.”
A further problem for me, an ancient English major, is the frequent use of the word “ain’t” throughout the book. Every time it appeared it jarred me. Plus, it never seemed to fit the narrative or the character who used it.
Gander was not a good fit for me. I recommend it only to those who were great fans of Gerald Cislon’s first novel.
The author’s website is geraldcislongander.com