The Long March by William Styron - Book Review

The form of the novella is a difficult one for authors to master. Not quite a novel but with aspects more developed than the short story, each one must almost inevitably look to one of the more famous incarnations in Thomas Mann's Death In Venice for guidance in structure, clarity and a driving narrative. I'm not sure whether Styron's work The Long March formally fits the criteria but for me it carries all the significant trimmings.

Two characters, Culver and Mannix are part of a group of Marines sent on the titular long march by an irate Colonel who considers parts of the unit unfit. Commencing in the evening of a day that has seen a terrible training ground accident the two friends reaction and treatment of the walk vary, one openly critical the other simultaneously admirable and resentful of the Colonel's actions.

More than one person has pointed out that Styron's book is a philosophical treatise on the role of the soldier (this being the most recent I could find), the inane moronity of the march juxtaposing the senseless waste that occurs in the books early chapters. For me though, Styron struggled to show this as anything other than a passing fancy. Culver and Mannix are both intelligent in their own ways, Culver takes on most of the heavy thinking while Mannix is vocal in his distrust and dislike of Army protocols, practice and leadership, but both are rendered impotent by Styron who doesn't really instill them with any individualism or sense of direction. The odd-couple's journey, rather than being one of philosophical discovery, becomes more one of inertia.

There are moments of elegant prose and the sense of locale is impressively cultivated and manipulated well to become foreboding, even when initial suggestions are that it is entirely to the contrary. Overall though, Styron's short work doesn't engage or compel anywhere near enough to enable its somewhat abstract philosophical ideals to creep through the scenes.

Film Prospects

Highly unlikely. It hasn't been adapted yet and I suspect that is because it isn't a marketable idea and would require substantial re-writing to accomplish. Destined to remain 'on page' only.

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