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Visions of Editors: How Good Stories Go to Waste

Recently I stumbled upon Visions of Mary, a war story by Joseph Richardson. The book begins in a present day emergency room in Tennessee: A physician, a good guy who takes his work seriously, fights to establish the identity of a man who was found wandering about in a snow storm. The M.D.'s questions bring up memories of World War II in the disoriented patient. Thanks to the lost man's recollections we eventually learn that he is Colonel John Stone, an American war hero.
The colonel tells the physician how he enlisted and became a pilot, how he married his sweetheart, Mary, and how he almost died when the Japanese shot down his plane, the "China Doll," in the last months of the war. After the attack, Stone and his men found themselves on a raft in the middle of a shark infested nowhere called the Pacific. Without food, water and radio connection their death seemed imminent.
The men's fight for survival is where the book turns exciting: plunged into this crisis, each character  reveals his personality. Stone keeps the cool head he is told to possess from the beginning; tough, charming Bledsoe turns out to have a philosophical mind; Skip who has risen through the army ranks because of his political connections initially wants to behave like the selfish brat we assume him to be but matures slightly towards the end.
Visions of Mary got me thinking about books, authors and editors. For while the novel hooked me initially —  I liked the physician and the stubborn Alzheimer's patient — chapters 3 to 15 dragged on with detailed descriptions of life in the army. They taught me a lot about pilot training, the mechanics of air planes and the needs of soldiers starving for women. But they left me craving action.
My writer's hat is off to any man or woman who can complete a 350 page manuscript and see it through to publication be it with Simon and Schuster or Knopf or with a print on demand publisher. Yet, as a reader, I hate to see a good story wasted.
Richardson's novel could have done with tightening and restructuring. A passionate editor might have suggested to focus on the 130 pages including and following the crash of the "China Doll" and to intersperse this story with back flashes to incorporate some though not all of the exposition from the first 200 pages.
Was there an editor? Did he not take his job seriously? I don't know. But what I believe is this: Every patient needs a physician who cares, and every book needs an editor of the same ilk. Richardson's book deserves the best.

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Visions of Mary — A Novel of One Man's War.
By Joseph Richardson. 356 pp. Two Harbors Press


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