During World War II, David Stern, then assigned to an Army newspaper in Honolulu, wrote 15 short stories for Esquire about a nameless brand-new U.S. Army 2nd lieutenant fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. The naïve 2nd lieutenant is helped by a talking, flying Army mule. The humorous military fantasies, satirizing the Army’s bureaucracy, were very popular. As soon as the War ended, Stern wrote connecting material to turn the separate stories into a single novel. Francis was published in October 1946, and sold so well that it went into several printings.
A couple of years later, Stern was out of the Army and was drawing a target on the political establishment. His sequel, Francis Goes to Washington, was a true novel. The 2nd lieutenant, now civilian Peter Stirling, returns to an average East Coast postwar life as a bank clerk. When Mayor Parker, the head of his local Democratic party, invites him to be its common-man candidate for Congress, an “ordinary fellow”, he feels nervous yet honored – until Francis reappears to reveal that the Mayor, known to insiders as “Slimy” Parker, is a corrupt political boss who plans to use him as a patsy.
NYC, Farrar, Straus & Co, September 1948, xii + 243 pages, hardcover $ 2.50. Frontispiece by Garrett Price.
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