Novels cannot get much better! I have read or reviewed well over a thousand books in the last decade but none better than the newest novel by Frank Schaeffer simply titled Baby Jack. I never thought I would ever find any western author express what being in the military and fighting wars was about by referring to one of the holiest books of the Hindus The Bhagavad Gita. In the form of a letter the author uses our marine hero Jack’s letter to his girl friend Jessica to explain how Krishna taught Arjuna about duty, discipline, God and self. He uses this letter to further explain how Arjuna was taught to take a stand for what is important; and about learning that “love and combat” are sometimes both right. This is really heavy stuff that most non-veterans do not understand or get – but most combat veterans will have little trouble bridging that gap. The author has a way of driving this loyalty and duty issue home through his lead character Jack.
The author uses many different voices to convey his story including baby Jack who is born after his father is killed. We also hear from God who we discover has a good sense of humor. The writer so skillfully crafts this story that it unfolds the plot through all these different view points and yet remains totally understandable and clear for the reader.
There are many issues in this book; however, like all great novels it is drove home by strong characterizations. We witness the disapproval of Jack by his own father because of his decision to join and serve in the Marine Corps. His dad refuses to write to him or to talk to him. Jack’s parents end up fighting and falling apart. There are so many really good relationship issues that Schaeffer attacks, explores or alludes to throughout his wonderful text. This story will make you think about social issues as well – like how the rich and well-to-do families are not sending their children off to war.
In some ways this book is about spiritual issues as well. It explores the heart and the soul and indirectly forces the reader to question certain things about life and God and duty. You cannot read this book without being changed in some way. It is powerful, moving, at times irreverent and humorous, sad, surreal, but always entertaining! This is Schaeffer’s best work to date and that is saying a lot since he has created some gigantic and profound works already.
Reviewed by: Bill McDonald (2006)
Todd Ogden, an acclaimed painter with work in museums around the world and a seemingly successful thirty-year marriage to the Brahmin Sarah, is living and painting in his two-hundred-year-old Massachusetts farmhouse when his youngest child, Jack, chooses the Marines over college. Feeling puzzled and ultimately infuriated by his son's incomprehensible switch to "the other side," a situation only further aggravated by his disapproval of Jack's girlfriend Jessica, Todd ultimately turns his back on his son. Not long after the start of Gulf War II, Jack is deployed to Iraq and killed a week later, trying to end off an ambush. From this point on, Baby Jack tells the story of the family Jack leaves behind, of his parents trying to survive as their marriage shatters, of Todd's own breakdown and after-the-fact attempt to understand his son's life — and of Jessica's perseverance and the baby to whom she gives birth after Jack's death. Baby Jack is a powerful and moving human story of sacrifice and redemption, which takes its readers into a territory way beyond the everyday.