Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

Points of Honor: Short Stories of the Great War by a US Combat Marine

Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

Points of Honor: Short Stories of the Great War by a US Combat Marine

Article excerpt

Points of Honor: Short Stories of the Great War by a US Combat Marine. Thomas Boyd. Edited by Steven Trout. University of Alabama Press, 2018, $19.95, paper, 180 pp.

THOMAS BOYD IS LARGELY REMEMBERED in connection with his much-lauded World War I novel Through the Wheat, which was published by Scribner's in 1923 on the recommendation of Boyd's friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, who called it "the best combatant story of the Great War." Boyd is a key, and increasingly important, figure in discussions of American World War I writing, although his name is little known beyond specialists in this area. However, as this timely reissue of Boyd's lesser-known World War I short story collection attests, a growing scholarly interest is bringing Boyd to a more prominent position within discussions of American war writing.

Points of Honor sees Boyd progress from the single-protagonist narrative of his debut novel to consider a wider array of the circumstantial and emotional experiences of modern war, which are reflected on in a more nuanced and less condemnatory fashion than in Through the Wheat. Points of Honor received positive, if limited, praise upon its publication in 1925 and has been out of print, until its reissue this year by Alabama University Press, edited and introduced by Steven Trout. Many researchers and general readers with an interest in World War I literature will be grateful for the opportunity to access Boyd's collection in an affordable, modernized format. The importance of this reissue extends far beyond the valuable service of making Boyd's collection physically obtainable, however. The latest in Trout's long line of contributions to the area of American World War I scholarship at once successfully enhances Boyd's profile as a literary craftsman, and brings this rich and overlooked work to the attention of the increasingly active area of American World War I literary studies.

Over recent years, there has been a growing discussion around Boyd who until 2014 had been the recipient of just a single scholarly essay. In 2006 Brian Bruce published the only biography of Boyd, while in 2009 Rvive Books brought out an edition of Boyd's final novel In Time of Peace (1935). Three essays issued through the publications of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature have also brought further attention to Through the Wheat. While more can perhaps be said about Boyd's debut novel, which arguably deserves (and seems destined to achieve) a more exalted place in the American World War I canon, the late spike in Boyd scholarship has raised troubling questions for his advocates: How much more remains to be said about this peripheral figure of twentieth-century fiction? Was Boyd's achievement, after all, really limited to a single standout novel?

The 2018 reprint of Points of Honor, attractively repackaged and supported by the prestige of its editor and publisher, makes the convincing claim that Boyd's career amounted to more than beginner's luck with Through the Wheat. Instead, as Trout argues, Boyd was the author of not one, but two, notable works of American World War I literature. Points of Honor, Trout asserts, is not merely an obscure curiosity of interest to obsessives, but a major work in its own right, and one which represents a significant literary and thematic development from Boyd's first novel.

Boyd enlisted in the Marine Corps in April 1917, serving with the Sixth Marines in the American Expeditionary Force's Second Division. He survived the battles of Belleau Wood, Soissons (in which he won the Croix de Guerre), and Saint Mihiel, before being invalided out during a gas attack at Blanc Mont in October 1918. After the war, Boyd moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he managed the Kilmarnock Books store and edited a weekly book page in the Sunday edition of the St. Paul Daily News. Inspired by the literary acquaintances his role brought him into contact with, including Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, and F. …

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