Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Course Corrections

Course Corrections: 
One Man's Unlikely Journey 
by Larry J. Nevels
(iUniverse / 1-462-01636-7 / 978-1462016365 / July 2011 / 316 pages / $18.95 paperback / $28.95 hardcover / $7.69 Kindle / $8.49 Nook)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Course Corrections is the late-in-life memoir of Larry J. Nevels, 1945-2011. Commander Nevels died last year, a retired, carrier-qualified Naval aviator, among other achievements, after a most humble and unlikely beginning. On one level the book he put together is a classic American rags to riches story ("riches" being defined in terms of personal reward rather than mere pelf). That is, it is a testament to gumption, persistence, several doses of luck, and the out-of-the-blue generosity of people who must have sensed his innate drive and decency. On another level, it is simply a terrific read. CDR Nevels had a great memory and a practiced story-teller's eye for detail and timing.

He was born into a broken, dysfunctional family who scorned those who went to college as effete snobs. His "home life" was hardly that, since he lived in a number of foster homes and occasionally struck out on his own when he was barely a teenager. Buoyed inexplicably by great faith, endurance, and optimism, he survived into high school, where he was given timely nurture (and a home) by a legendary teacher and life lessons from a tough, caring football coach. Their support led him to a football scholarship at a good college, and that, with several more strokes of luck, led him to Navy flight school and a long, successful career as a Naval aviator.

Whether one reads for inspiration or entertainment, Course Corrections is a fine book. I shook my head many times, laughed out loud a few times, and admittedly got misty eyed more than once. Few people know more great stories than old Navy veterans, and few Navy veterans know more great stories than old Naval aviators. I'll relate an example from the second category if I may. It's a sea story of the PG-13 variety, and concerns one of the crewmen on his plane rather than CDR Nevels himself.

Naval aviators must endure long deployments away from home, many of which are extended unexpectedly and bring considerable strain to family life. One of CDR Nevels' crewmen once telephoned his wife that he was finally returning home. Come meet the plane, he told her, "with a mattress strapped to your back." Her response: "Don't you worry about me. Just make sure you're the first one off the plane!"

For my part, as a long-time indie author, I have to say that the copy editing of the book leaves something to be desired. The book was rushed into print: only four months after it was published, CDR Nevels succumbed to a protracted battle with cancer. Still, potential readers should know that these problems are small and do not in any way detract from the impact of the prose. The book is great entertainment, documents the life of a remarkable person, and stands as an inspiration to those who read it.

I would never have discovered this book if my wife had not been a high school classmate of CDR Nevels. He visited our town, the town where he graduated from high school, in later years, and I came to know him as a calm, well-adjusted person, with nothing unusual about him except perhaps his life in the Navy. (I had been a non-career surface officer in the Navy myself, so we shared a certain bond.) My wife and I once stayed at the bed and breakfast he and his wife maintained in Fredericksburg, Texas, where we admired his renovation of a period pioneer Texas home and enjoyed his hospitality. Neither she nor I had any inkling of his extraordinary path to the present until we learned of his book.

Course Corrections is a sterling example of the value of independent publishing. I can't imagine any of the literary-industrial complex big four (or is it big three?) taking a risk with a book like this. That's their misfortune. This is a fine, fine book and it is worthy of a much wider readership. CDR Nevels said, of his career in aviation, that the number of his takeoffs equaled the number of his landings, and that is one of the best things you can say about a career as a pilot. My wife and I can only wish this extraordinary man a happy landing on his final journey.