Blast From The Past - POINTS OF HONOR by Thomas Boyd

Points of Honor, Thomas Boyd, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925

Points of Honor is a collection of short stories by Thomas Boyd, best known for his novel of World War I soldiers, Through the Wheat.  TTW received a good deal of critical acclaim and support, including from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins.  Boyd was seen, for a while, as one of the leading lights of post-WWI American literature.   But his subsequent books never got the sales or acclaim of that first novel, and his fame faded away.  He died of a stroke at age 37; Boyd's own war-time injuries may have contributed to that early death.

Where Through the Wheat's focus was on actual combat experiences, Points of Honor is mostly set during periods between the actual fighting, or in rear-line settings, or (in "The Long Shot") follows a soldier's return to the US after being injured in a mustard-gas attack.

Here's a telling quote from the Foreword:
"...these stories may serve to correct the impression that I hate war.  That would not be my business.  But it is my business not to glorify it; it is my business to perceive it truthfully and to set down those perceptions in such a way that they may be shared by whoever is kind enough to read them.  Hate war!  Hate the ambitious who casue the wars and the financiers who grow fat on them.  Hate the people who believe sleek lies.  If we must hate let us hate causes; it is futile to hate effects.  If I hated war I should lie about it, thereby saving myself a good deal of sweat, labor, and anxiety occasioned by the endeavor to be honest."

Not all the stories are fully successful.  Several come off as more like extended vignettes.  "The Uninvited", with its Registration of Graves Department investigator tasked with finding poorly documented burial sites, works well as a traditional detective story.  Most end with irony, frequently bleak. 

"The Long Shot" is the story that got turned into the 1930 movie BLAZE O'GLORY, mentioned at the end of this post.  Reading some of the information available about Boyd, it turned out he despised movies for leading people away from reading books.  It must have galled him to the max that the bleak protagonist of this story, a former soldier trying to return to his previous career as a machinist, was turned into a Broadway entertainer for the film version so song and dance numbers could be inserted into the movie.  Considering how dark and bitter the original story is, it's hard to imagine the movie's changes being anything but a travesty.  (I don't know if copies of BLAZE O'GLORY have survived the 80+ years since it was filmed.  At best, I suppose it might have been something like Steve Martin's 1981 PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, a bleak Depression-era story with musical inclusions that left audiences mostly off-balance.)

Duncan Milner, the protagonist of  "The Long Shot", shares a good deal of experiences with Boyd himself.  Gassed in the war, unable to return to his previous machinist career, troubled relationships in his personal life.  Milner, a sniper in the war, ends up murdering the lover of his unfaithful wife.  The final irony is that the judge who vilifies him for taking another man's life and sentences Milner to the scaffold is the same man who, as an officer in the war, spotted targets for Milner to kill.

"The Long Shot" is also noticeable because of its portrayal of a veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life, his struggles with the after-effects of his war injuries, and his difficulty in finding assistance, both from friends and family and from the government, in making that transition.  It's an early portrayal of PTSD and the difficulties faced by returning veterans.  As such, it's still a very pertinent story.

His better-known novel Through The Wheat can still be found in print, but I don't believe this story collection is currently available anywhere.  I read a copy of the original 1925 printing via InterLibrary Loan.

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