FULL MEASURE is a frustrating book that is full of contradictions. Is it comprised of some of T. Jefferson Parker’s best writing? Yes. There are vignettes, particularly one at a party that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the story, that are so realistically and sharply written as to be almost painful to read. Is it one of his best books? No. It is clichéd in spots, somewhat carelessly plotted in others, and is almost totally ruined by its denouement. More on that in a bit. Is it a book you should read? Yes.
Its portrayal of Patrick Norris, a 22-year-old Marine returning home after combat duty in Afghanistan, is an unflinching warts-and-all look at how a combat veteran readjusts (or doesn’t) to civilian life. It is also a snapshot of the United States right now, a brilliant examination of how difficult the problems facing us are, and how the solutions for them often create more problems.
"Longtime fans of Parker’s will find [FULL MEASURE] worth reading, but will yearn for what hopefully will be a return to form and topic in his future books."
Let’s talk about what occurs in FULL MEASURE, at least on the surface. Patrick returns from combat duty in Afghanistan to his hometown of Fallbrook, California (the author’s hometown as well) and his proud family. The latter consists of Archibald and Caroline, his parents, who own a successful avocado farm, and his older brother, Ted. Ted is a ball of difficulty, mildly but painfully physically impaired, while being vaguely intellectually, socially and emotionally stunted as well, in ways that are shakily defined. Patrick’s return home is bittersweet. A wildfire had gone through the area shortly before his arrival stateside, taking three lives and, of more personal significance, all but destroying the family farm. His nights are spent delivering pizza, while his days are occupied helping his father attempt to salvage what is left of the farm, an effort that is hindered to some degree by Ted, whose physical and emotional problems make his work unreliable at best.
Patrick also makes a somewhat painfully awkward effort to establish a romantic relationship with a local reporter, and meets with some success almost in spite of himself and notwithstanding some very real after-effects of combat duty. Ted is easily led, having fallen in with bad company that utilize his loneliness and social ostracization with a sinister twist, though he is fully capable of haphazardly stumbling into trouble on his own. His efforts at romantic socialization cause him almost nothing but trouble and ultimately lead to a catalyst that rocks the book.
Meanwhile, Fallbrook has its own issues. The economic problems of the previous seven years have not been resolved; there is no consensus on what needs to be addressed, let alone what solutions need to be put in place; and the flash fire that occurred has all but demoralized the town. When it’s discovered that the fire was deliberately set, the questions are obvious: Who would do such a thing? And why? Those are the issues that hang (like low-hanging smoke) over the book’s pages.
It’s the answers to those questions that ultimately make FULL MEASURE a good book as opposed to the great one it might have been. The revelation of the doer and his or her motive are saved until late in the novel, and gives a bit of a “Scooby Doo” climax, at least as far as the mystery element is concerned. The other, bigger problem is that the very individual who committed the arson is the one person who was the most unlikely to do so, regardless of motive. Please note: I HATE spoilers, so I will apologize in advance for being vague as to the doer and his or her reasons. Whatever problems I may have with the novel, it remains that 1) your reactions may differ, and 2) Parker undoubtedly spent a good deal of time crafting the characters, plot, beginning, middle and ending. I happily will circle back upon request in a month or two after FULL MEASURE has been out there and fully explain my conclusion if anyone is interested.
I have seen reviews that compare FULL MEASURE to the work of John Steinbeck. I would consider that to be a stretch, though many of Parker’s other novels certainly document the people and environs of southern California to a degree equaling that found in Steinbeck’s canon. Is it a homage to Steinbeck’s work? I believe so, particularly with respect to one of his better known novels. Bottom line? Longtime fans of Parker’s will find it worth reading, but will yearn for what hopefully will be a return to form and topic in his future books.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 17, 2014
- Publication Date: October 7, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press
- ISBN-10: 1250052009
- ISBN-13: 9781250052001