The Wars Among the Paines

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Robert Treat Paine, Jr., is the last of a long family line. (Very long; the family genealogy extends back to the 1730s.) The family history is marked by the sons’ experiences in various wars through American history, which provides a handy framework for marking out each generation. The novel focuses primarily on the two world wars and the Vietnam War, showcasing the family’s descent from upstanding American citizens to a drug-addicted mother, an overly stern father, one monstrous son, a saintly (if overzealous) daughter, and the narrator.

Robert (often called Treat, to help differentiate him from the various other Robert Paines in the family) presents the story of his family to his new wife, Susan, as a way to show her where he has come from and who he is as a man. Interspersed with the accounts of his grandfather’s and father’s generations are tales from his own life, from his high school days to his Cornell years to his time in the army. Through this, Susan and the reader are to learn what sort of man he is and see a portrait of a changing America and a changing family.

It’s an ambitious endeavor, and impressive in its scope. Multigenerational novels have always held an appeal for me, and I was eager to see the shifts and changes in the Paine family as their time went on. While the novel does accomplish what it sets out to do, I felt it did so in a rather lackluster way. I would have loved to see more dialogue, more in-depth interactions between the characters. As it was, it felt like a six hundred page summary. Part of this is due to the format of the story; it’s unlikely a family history written out by members of the family would have the same amount of dialogue and description as an ordinary novel. However, The Wars Among the Paines is still a novel, no matter its conceit. For a novel, it was dry and at times uninteresting.

Overall, I enjoyed the story a great deal. The novel takes place in an era I don’t often read about, and the 1960s and 1970s were a refreshing change from my usual historical interests. However, I don’t think this will appeal to many beyond those interested in military history and books about young men coming of age. I felt it offered little beyond those two areas.

Reviewed By:

Author John M. Millar
Star Count 3/5
Format eBook
Page Count 599 pages
Publisher Koehler Books
Publish Date 2020-09-30
ISBN 0978164663062
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue October 2020
Category Historical Fiction


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