Review: For the Boys by J M Snyder (from “Some Gave All”)

Some Gave All – Four stories in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Review by Vashtan

Calling this anthology a “mixed bag” is the best I can say for the whole anthology. It brings together stories of four authors: “Memorial Meeting” by Aline de Chevigny, “Flyover” by Jefferson Dane, Thanet Blake’s Memorial” by Wayne Greenough and “For the Boys” by J.M. Snyder. The anthology is published “to honor those who’ve served for their countries”. As far as I can tell, “those that served their countries” were exclusively American (I may be missing something).

Out of these four stories, the first three are heterosexual-focused, and three have paranormal elements (ghosts in the afterlife, spirits of vengeance and spirits hiring “hard-boiled detectives”), therefore, I’m only reviewing the one story that falls within the remit of this blog, namely Snyder’s “For the Boys”, which is set during the Korean war.

And that’s for the better, because of the other three, two would have got scathing reviews. “Memorial Meeting” was sappy and had unbelievable characters, writing and structure were fairly weak, and the concept of two spirits lingering until their descendants would give marriage vows – including conveniently placing the rings – was just too much for me. “Thanet Blake’s Memorial” is almost incomprehensible and made me groan in frustration as I tried to understand what was going on around characters I didn’t care about. The third, “Flyover” was a decent enough story, but I’m not reviewing this here as it’s straight.

Mixed bag; so if you’re only interested in m/m or gay historical fiction, you might want to pass on this anthology and only get J.M. Snyder’s “For the Boys”, which is a sweet historical romance told against the backdrop of the Korean war (or intervention, as it’s called whenever a nation doesn’t like to issue a formal declaration of war). You can get the short story at the author’s website, linked below.

Told in first person point-of-view by helicopter pilot Carl Prosser, “For the Boys” is the story of Carl falling in love with Tommy, a performer of an entertainment troupe of USO, that tours the military camps. Carl meets Tommy while accompanying his comrade Bert to a girl, and while he waits outside, he gets chatted up by Tommy. They do the deed, and meet as often as they can while Tommy is still in camp. At the end of the three days, they are completely in love. As Tommy’s troupe leaves, both write letters to each other, deepening their feelings for each other. Carl eventually cooks up a madcap plan to see Tommy again, but doesn’t actually have to follow through with it, as the troupe is returning their way.

The troupe gets attacked on the road, and Carl comes within an inch of losing Tommy, or “my boy”, as he calls him, but all ends well. This story is heavy on the romance and light on the plot – the love is very much center stage, but it’s very well written and the feeling seems genuine. After reading the other three stories, I was in a somewhat uncharitable mood, but “For the Boys” turned that around, and I did enjoy the story, even though very little happens apart from their relationship taking form. The history is light, but seems believable for the most part. What did nag me a little bit was that, while Carl clearly has to be careful and keep his head down, his comrade Bert knows about him and doesn’t seem to mind at all, even jokes about it with Carl. Apart from having to hide and play things subtle, Carl doesn’t seem too worried about falling in love and makes plans for the future with Tommy, basically ignoring society at large. However, it’s still a far cry from OKHOMO.

I found the writing well-done and engrossing; have a taste:

Lonely didn’t begin to describe Korea. Some nights, when the wind whistled around the flaps of my tent, I would lay awake on my narrow cot and listen to Bert snore, and wonder if maybe I wasn’t wasting my time out here, wasting my life for a war that the government refused to declare. Nights like that I wanted to be home, in the heat of the South, and I clutched the blankets tight around my body and ached for a lover’s touch. Then there were days when I was trying to get thewounded off the battlefield and could hear the steady ping of enemy bullets off my chopper blades, and wondered if I would ever even make it home again.

Tommy watched me closely—I could feel his gaze on my face, my neck, and I was all too aware of his naked arms and his thin clothing, sequins and silk, when I stood next to him in heavy fatigues and a thick field jacket. “I’m sure you have someone back home who misses you,” he was saying, his breath warm against my cheek. When had he moved so close? “Someone who writes you long letters, cheers you up a bit. A girlfriend maybe? Someone like that?”

“No.” I shook my head for emphasis. “No girlfriend.” I didn’t want to tell him that the only letters from home I got came from my mother or my sister. No lover, and definitely no girls.

“Not your type?” he breathed.

Staring into his deep eyes, I whispered, “You could say that.”

So, this is heavy on the romance, and, compared to other things I’ve read recently, light on the smut. There are no pages and pages of explicit sex. This story is quieter, subtler, and focuses on blossoming love and longing.

If anything, I was somewhat confused about Tommy. During their first meeting, he seems to be and act like a much older man, but in the course of the story seems to go through a reverse ageing process, and he seems five or more years younger at the end than he was at the beginning. It might be a lover’s exuberance, but it did throw me out of the story a bit.

“For the Boys” accounts for 17 thousand of the anthology’s total 53 thousand words, and I strongly recommend getting just this story rather than the complete anthology.

Author’s Website

The story can be bought as standalone here

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