Random House, Vintage, 314p. c1996. 0-375-72744-2. $14.00. A
Three young men of promise; three generations of Englishmen; three men dead before their prime. Faulks, author of Birdsong and On Green Dolphin Street, uses these three short lives to paint a picture of evolving British society and its effect on its citizens. He takes as his springboard Calvin Trillin's Remembering Denny, a study of a young man of such luminance and charisma that his 1957 graduation was covered by Time magazine, yet who killed himself without fully realizing his potential. What is there, Faulks asks, about a given time and society that will stifle a given personality? How, the question is subtly asked, might that personality have fared in a different time?
Like the Denny of Trillin's book, two, at least, of the three subjects studied here were unable to handle the fact of their homosexuality in the climate of their day. Christopher Wood, an aspiring and talented artist born at the turn of the century, threw himself into dizzying Parisian life of art, drugs and sex in the rarified atmosphere of the Picassos and Cocteaus, and killed himself at 29.
Richard Hillary, whose even shorter life centered around his desire to be a WW II fighter pilot, was horribly burned, spent months in hospital, then by his own choice flew again and was killed in an unexplained training accident. He had rime nevertheless to write an account of his flight experiences in The Last...