Jack is a Vietnam vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He depends on a supply of marijuana that he grows here and there to make it through the day. He lives out of his dilapidated van with his old dog, Blondie, and moves around a lot. During the course of the book, he is parked on a rarely used road on Fort Ord tending to several pot plants he is growing in the woods. Jack is one messed up individual. He's long been fascinated with the German military, Hitler, Nazis, and especially the swastika, what it stood for before Hitler made it the symbol of the Nazi party and what it stood for after World War II.
He remembered his boyhood game of goose-stepping in his foster parents' cow field in Fresno with his black, knee-high leather boots. He would pretend he was a German soldier marching, marching, marching in one great glorious line of boys that went on as far as the eye could see. The war with Germany had been over almost a decade -- long enough for everyone to know the terrible things that had happened there -- but he was just an American boy with a fascination for the German military. He had no idea why. All he knew was it still made him quiver. That was what had brought him to the swastika, but even back then, there was more to it than just making a buck. There was something mystical in that tiny scratch mark of a symbol. It looked like a wheel with pieces broken off, or maybe a hooked cross. Hitler was brilliant to steal such a powerful image, and Jack was a genius to find a market for the fake militaria. His cup overflowed for a while.Jack sees ghosts -- particularly a Major General Fritzsche who is always barking orders at him in German -- and he's on a quest to understand the Truth. It was difficult to follow the scenes told from Jack's point of view because he's not in his right mind.
It was much later that he discovered the swastika's true meaning of good fortune. For years he tried to explain the lucky nature of the symbol. Most people thought it was okay when it was pointed left and only Nazi when it was pointed to the right, when in fact it didn't matter which way it pointed. (page 3)
The only other characters mentioned in detail in East Garrison are Tracy's husband, Will, a federal police officer who does his best to strictly follow the law, and Angela, who works with Tracy at California State University Monterey Bay's Media Learning Complex and whose birth defect has prompted her to spend much of her time fighting for environmental causes.
Tracy is preparing herself for the birth of her child, and Angela gives her some books about the goddesses to help Tracy find the strength to get through the ordeal. When Tracy is in the beginning stages of labor, she decides that is absolutely the right time to seek out her father on the Army base to make amends. She wants to get rid of the anger and other emotions she feels for her father to clean the slate before her baby makes an entrance. Angela insists on accompanying her, and that's where things get messy -- literally.
I don't want to give more of the plot away, but I think it's important to note that readers with weak stomachs will want to avoid this book (along with those who can't read books where the animals don't come out okay). I didn't expect it to descend so fast into the gruesome, and I found myself having to close the book, close my eyes, and take a few deep breaths to keep from throwing up. This also is the point in the story when I knew I was going to have a hard time with this review.
Weger is a talented writer. She drew me in from the very first page with her cast of eccentric characters, and there were so many themes being explored -- impending motherhood, family relationships, marital tensions, environmental issues, the effects of war -- that I wasn't bored for a second. However, so much happened in the last 60 pages, and the tight structure just fell apart for me. I thought I was on Tracy's side, but I couldn't relate to her anymore. A hospital scene after Tracy gives birth was too unbelievable. And the final chapter was so all over the place with talk of faith and Truth and post-labor hormones that I was left scratching my head.
Overall, the book was only okay for me. The writing was good, the characters were interesting and fairly well developed, and it held my attention until the very end. But the ending left me feeling unsettled and unsatisfied.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of East Garrison from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists for review purposes.