Shattered by Nancy Scott
Reviewed by Charles Rammelkamp

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Shattered by Nancy Scott
Reviewed by Charles Rammelkamp

$15.00, 166 pages
ISBN: 978-0-578-22224-0

“He’s just a kid. We were all kids once,” the wounded Marine Matt says to his young love Laine, about her impetuous kid brother Eddie, at the end of Nancy Scott’s novel, which takes place over the course of eight months during the Korean War. The two are star-crossed lovers whose affection for one another cannot overcome their circumstances.  Indeed, their love may be the defining condition that puts an end to their childhood – or Laine’s at any rate. Matt has spent time in the midst of the horror of Korea and returned badly wounded, disillusioned, suffering from PTSD. Here, Matt has just stopped in Laine’s Chicago suburb on his way from Idaho to Ohio, where he is re-settling with his mother and brother. Eddie, a kid who plays army, shooting down imaginary MiGs and killing “gooks,” and to whom Matt had given his coveted mess kit, announces, “I want to be a Marine when I grow up.”
To which Matt responds, “That’s what I said when I was your age.”

But Shattered is not so much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-to-terms saga. So many of the characters in this novel have been shattered, including three generations of war veterans. Only Eddie, exuberant Eddie, seems unaffected, not even by his mother’s death.  There is Laine’s father, a small businessman in suburban Chicago, a work-a-holic who appears to be desperately seeking solace in his work.  There is the family housekeeper Helen, a refugee from Czechoslovakia whose husband Ludvik is separated from her behind the iron curtain because of Cold War complications.  There is Gus, Laine’s father’s employee who lives under the cloud of the McCarthy Communist witch-hunt, because his stepfather, a Hollywood producer, has party affiliations. There is Matt’s mother, whose husband, a military man, was killed in France. There is Poppy, Matt’s World War I veteran grandfather who came home after the Armistice a changed man, as he tells his grandson. All are shattered, “adjusting.”

Above all, there is Matt. Matt tries so hard to “come home” and fit in in his hometown of Tourneau, Idaho, but things have irrevocably changed. Think Hemingway’s Nick Adams. Matt learns that his mother has met another man and will soon be moving to Ohio. He can no longer relate to his old high school buddies who have stayed behind and own local businesses. He meets his old girlfriend, who is now pregnant with another classmate’s child. His own brother, a basketball star for his high school, is likewise hard to connect with.
Discharged from the Marines just before Christmas in 1952, Matt keeps a vow he made to Dixon, a buddy who died in Korea, to return his personal effects to his widow in Florida. Of course, when Matt meets the widow, an impoverished woman with three children, he experiences survivor’s guilt. Why wasn’t I the one who lost his life?

It’s in Miami Beach that Matt meets and falls in love with Laine, down in Florida to visit her cousin Marcy, a fast, young flirt who knows how to maneuver around men. Though she’s had a boyfriend back home in Langston, Laine is still a dewy-eyed ingenue.  Her love affair with Matt is brief (only a little more than a week) but affecting. They swim naked together. They have sex. They spend New Year’s Eve together – how romantic! – but Laine sees the haunted side of her lover when he freaks out amidst the celebrations.  All through the novel, Matt has crippling flashbacks to his Korean experience, which he simply cannot share with anyone.  At the party while everyone else is making merry, “He had to get away from the circus inside, everyone dancing and enjoying themselves, the phony revelry, while the guys he left behind were dying.”

Laine has already seen the scars on Matt’s back and legs, but the trauma goes so much deeper; she intuits the hidden scars.  “War messes up people’s lives, doesn’t it?” Laine says to Matt. It’s kind of a revelation to her.

When their idyllic week in Miami is over, they promise to keep in touch but of course they can’t, and the reader knows this. Letters seem too trivial. Was it really more than a fling? They both have their doubts. Matt returns to Tourneau, where he loses it for a moment in a parking lot and almost kills a man. Laine returns to Illinois, where she meets another boy, even though she recognizes it as puppy love.  Their story of separation takes place against the background of the national Communist hysteria, the seemingly endless Korean war – there are disturbing rumors the US will drop another atomic bomb – and Stalin’s death. In this context, the story of a love that’s doomed from the start is particularly poignant. Each feels so alone, so vulnerable.

Scott evokes the era through allusions to popular music – “Sentimental Journey,” “Unforgettable,” etc. – and popular stars of the screen. Often called “The Forgotten War,” the Korean conflict cast a long shadow over an entire decade. Shattered shines a light on the emotional devastation of an era, not only in the lives of these two young people.

Nancy new poetry books:
Running Down Broken Cement (Main Street Rag)
(urban narratives)
and Midwestern Memories (Aldrich Press)
(battles at home and abroad)
for discounted copies, autographed, email Nancy