All That Is by James Salter starts with the invasion of Okinawa. That is where my dad did his service as Seabee at the end of the war. He just got in and found himself building landing fields on Okinawa, and then the war was over.
Philip Bowman survived the invasion and the war and came home a hero to his family. He went to Harvard planning to study science and changed to journalism. He wanted to work at the New York Times but settled for a small book publisher, Braden and Baum. He met Vivian Amussan, a Virginia girl raised in horse country, at a bar on St Patrick’s Day. She was with her friend who lived in NYC. Bowman and Vivian dated and married. Her dad wasn’t enthusiastic, nor was his mom. The parents were right.
Characters come and go throughout this novel. Just as he or she or they are becoming interesting, poof they disappear one way or another. Bowman certainly is a womanizer. He has passionate affairs that smolder and flame out just as passionately. He is the victimizer and the victim.
Bowman’s mother is dying and Beatrice made one of the most beautiful comments about death: “When you die, what do you think happens to you?” She answers her own question when Bowman defers. “I think that whatever you believe will happen is what happens.” What a profound truth, comment, and theory.