Anthony Swofford took the literary world by storm with Jarhead, his electrifying memoir of serving as a U.S. marine in the Gulf War. Celebrated for its visceral candor and profane lyricism, Jarhead stands today as a landmark contribution to the literature of war.
Now, in his bold fiction debut, Swofford demonstrates the same audacious vision as he plumbs the legacies of war, the wish for redemption, and the danger of love.
Seventeen-year-old Severin Boxx lives on Yokota, an enormous American air force base on the outskirts of Tokyo that is home to fourteen thousand U.S. soldiers and a large contingent of long-range nuclear bombers. Just outside the base lies the busy Haijima rail station. Exit A is one of the many doorways into this place of movement, anonymity, and sudden disappearance. Much of the novel's action transpires in the netherworld around Exit A, a mad neon landscape of noodle shops, strip clubs, sushi joints, pawnshops, whorehouses, sake fountains, military surplus stores, tattoo parlors, hash bars, comic book stores, pachinko parlors, fish shops, and alleys -- "the alleys that all lead somewhere, usually down."
It's here, not long before the Gulf War begins, that we first meet Severin, an earnest, muscular high-school-football star and son of a base colonel. Like most of the other young American men on the air base, Severin is mad for Virginia Kindwall, the base general's daughter, who is a hafu -- half American and half Japanese. Beautiful, smart, and utterly defiant of a father who wields godlike military power, Virginia has become a petty criminal in the Japanese underground.
Severin is soon caught up in Virginia's world. But theirs is not a typical high school romance; they fall into trouble way over their heads and are quickly subjected to the enormous, unforgiving tensions between America and Japan -- a relationship still informed by the long shadows of World War II and America's use of the atomic bomb.
Years later, Severin and Virginia remain lost to each other -- until an emotionally frayed, thirtysomething Severin embarks on a quest to find Virginia and, in so doing, the part of himself taken from him when his boyhood abruptly ended.
Like Jarhead before it, Anthony Swofford's Exit A is darkly irreverent, frankly erotic, and more than a little wicked, a tale told in a brooding, pained voice filled with the simple human fury of being alive. It is, in sum, a first novel in full. Building inexorably toward a climax that is at once suspenseful and emotionally overwhelming, Anthony Swofford's fiction debut is a triumph.