As Good As Can Be (2020) – William A. Glass

Title:As Good as Can Be
Author:William A. Glass
Publisher:Hawkeye Publishers
Publication/release date:14 April 2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:I was kindly sent a copy of this novel by the author William A. Glass in exchange for an honest review

Dave Knight was born into a large family that consisted of a mother, a father and four siblings, Melissa, Marie, Dan and Perle. His father, Lieutenant Colonel Knight is in the military and has a bit of a drinking problem. His mother Bobbie is always suffering from some headache or other and seems to spend a lot of time lying down in darkened rooms. Due to Knight’s career in the military the family move quite frequently from one compound to the next. It is also the 1950’s, and Dave’s first few years in school reading novels instead of learning go largely unnoticed. His love for reading will be the only constant in his life.

William A. Glass’ novel is an ambitious and riveting story about a life. The seemingly ordinary life of a boy who grows up during the threat of nuclear war, blatant racism, and sexism and the looming tragedy that would occur in Vietnam. Dave’s story is told with precision and a regimentation akin to his life as the son of a very strict military man. No detail is left unsung and even though Glass’ descriptions may at times seem to go above and beyond the call of duty, it is this dedication that lends the novel its charm.

As we follow Dave’s journey through middle school on the military bases in and around the United States, Tehran and even Germany, his experiences in high school and eventually his first job as a desk clerk in an apartment building it is easy to fall for his ‘devil may care’ attitude. In most moral dilemmas Dave Knight sits firmly on the fence, and often finds himself on the wrong side of the law, but in the most charming way possible. A quiet and unassuming young man who seems to lack ambition, and often finds himself following the crowd. In school he found himself in trouble with the teachers quite frequently, was often involved in fights and later became involved with the hippie crowd after high school. It was then the 1960’s and Dave along with a lot of people from that era were experimenting with psychedelic drugs and enjoying the laid-back scene. It is also during this time that he meets his wife Cindy, and despite their parents disapproval they get married at a very young age.

As the Knight children became older and slowly started moving away from home they were no longer close, and it is not until a terrible tragedy befalls the family that Dave become involved in his family’s lives again. His father is still drinking heavily, and it is becoming clear that his mother is extremely ill. It is not unreasonable to question our love for our protagonist. Is Dave a likeable character? I think what is most important is that the characters in this novel do not simply ‘get better’ nor do they see the error of their ways. They are as human as is possible in a work of ‘fiction’ and it is refreshing to realize that there is simply no moral high ground to be found. They are all simply just doing the best they can in a time when social conventions were very different to what they are today. That being said there is an undeniable tenderness that seeps through every step in Dave’s journey.

When Dave is called up to go to Vietnam he is fortunate through Lt. Col Knight’s influence to end up in the much safer landmass of Korea where he works as an armed guard at a massive nuclear weapons depot. Several chapters are spent on his time in Seoul and the daily lives of a group of misfits and the struggles of living on a military base with little routine other than late nights spent in guard towers, drinking beer and playing card games. All the while Dave is writing letters to his young bride, and burying his face in a paperback at every possible opportunity.

As Good As Can Be is a novel that I struggled to put down. This is quite rare for me, and I often wonder what it is that makes us so completely hooked on the outcome of a novel. Is it the plot, the lengthy descriptions or the characters that keep us reading long past our bedtime? My own answer to this question has always been the characters. The characters urge me on to the next chapter, and Dave Knight is not a character that I will forget quickly. Dave Knight is one of those rare characters who is so damn ordinary he has unwittingly become extraordinary. Glass is a magnificent story teller, and I am hoping that he will continue to write stories about ordinary people living their lives because he is really quite good at it.

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