Walter's Purple Heartby Catherine Ryan Hyde
Michael Steeb is an aimless twenty-one-year-old pot farmer living a day-to-day existence in an
From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes a flight of sheer imagination: the story of a love affair that spans two lives, two incarnations but for only one of its partners and the many repercussions of a young life cut short by war.
Michael Steeb is an aimless twenty-one-year-old pot farmer living a day-to-day existence in an unfinished farmhouse in central California in the 1980s. He has no real plans or interests until the day he connects with the memories of a life that seems to belong to someone else, that of a young American soldier killed in World War II. Seeking answers on the Ouija board, he instead finds Walter, the spirit of the young soldier. Only much later does Michael come to understand that Walter is an earlier incarnation of himself. For while Michael is, of course, only one person, inside him are two dueling identities: an aimless, carefree pothead, and an angry young soldier who was unprepared for death and who won't let go. Only the resolution of deep grudges and grievances will enable Walter to move on, to merge into his new life, and only Michael can effect that transition.
Michael sets out to find Andrew, Walter's best friend from the war days the one who talked Walter into enlisting in the first place and Mary Ann, the fiancée Walter left behind. He finds them married to each other and much the same as they were forty years before. Mary Ann is still open and knowing, and recognizes Walter in Michael immediately. Andrew remains guarded, closed-minded, and skeptical, and he sets out to prove that Michael is the worst sort of con man.
Meanwhile the romance Walter began with Mary Ann forty years earlier reignites between Mary Ann and Michael, despite the harsh reality of the difference in their ages, despite the presence of a jealous and defensive Andrew.
Michael's task is the near-impossible: to lead Walter's elderly mother and middle-aged brother to closure and peace, to make Andrew believe this new reality, to deliver the truth about Walter's Purple Heart, and somehow to achieve the forgiveness that has been absent for so many years.
Woven throughout the story are the direct observations of Walter as a narrator from beyond the grave who slides through time correcting history, telling secrets, providing perspective on his life after death, and guiding the living on the path to his, and their own, release.
Walter's Purple Heart is a tightly plotted, fast-paced war drama and a deeply felt romance, wrapped together in a unique twist on the prospect of multiple lives. In original and unexpected ways, Catherine Ryan Hyde paints an enduring portrait of a life prematurely lost, and the endless ripples of consequence that affect those who loved him, in a microcosm that sheds light on the true gravity of war.
- Simon & Schuster
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- 6.32(w) x 8.86(h) x 1.01(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Three Walter
Did you think I was gone?
No chance of that. If death was the end of me, this story would be over.
Nobody in this story is going anywhere without me. They don't know enough, don't know where to go.
I don't mean to insult these people, sounding like I'm the only one who knows anything. I mean, these people are my friends. It's just that, when you're alive...Oh, boy. How do I say this without offending everybody? When you're alive, you don't know squat. It's like being lost in the woods. You don't see the woods, and you don't really know where you are. It's like you just see the trees right around you, and you have no idea what part of the forest it is, or how it fits in with the rest of the forest. If you're walking around trying to get found, you probably don't even know if you've seen these particular trees before. No perspective, you know? No overview.
I guess I sound prejudiced against the living, and maybe in some ways I am. When you've done both and you know it, it's hard not to see what's what.
I will say this, though. A few living people have some kind of breakthrough knowing. For lack of a better expression. It's like some part of them knows the whole forest, and every now and then they can operate out of that part of themselves. But they can't do it all the time, and they could never explain it to you.
So even though it has limited uses, I still have to give credit where credit is due and admit that some living people are knowers.
Mary Ann used to be that way. That's why the little incident in the backseat of my dad's Ford just before I shipped out. I didn't see it like that at the time. I wasn't much of a knower myself, back then.
But she knew I wasn't coming back.
I wonder if she's still got that. I hope so. It'll help a lot, if she does. But it's a funny thing, knowing. It's the first thing to get knocked out of you. Life has a way of finding that part of you and taking it back.
I'll tell you who used to be a great knower was Bobby. You won't meet him, because he's dead. Really dead, not stuck like me. He was a buddy of Andrew's and mine on the island. Good guy, Bobby.
Not long after we land, he goes off and buys a native hooker for the four of us. Yeah, that was a good example of what I'm talking about. That was a knowing thing, and maybe I saw it that way when it happened, even though I was obviously alive at the time.
There were four of us that were real close on the island. The four musketeers, that's what we called ourselves. Me, Andrew, Bobby, and Jay.
Anyway, the thing with the hooker. This is where I am right now. I feel guilty calling her that, even though it's what she is, because she looks about sixteen, and I keep imagining that if the Japs and the GIs had never landed, she might've just been a girl like any other like your daughter or your sister.
Anyway, she isn't.
She costs Bobby his gold pinky ring. That pays for all four of us. Nice gesture, only I feel pretty inclined to give it a miss. It's one of those things, though, you have to take into account what your musketeers will say, so I go in for my share.
She's lying on Bobby's jacket in the dusk, in the jungle. Wearing nothing more than that ring on her middle finger. She's holding her hand out at arm's length, like to admire the look. I know how many guys have been in to see her already, but she doesn't look like she knows. She looks like she forgot to notice. I'm standing there in front of her, and all she can do is look at the ring.
She has this vulnerability about her that I think I'm supposed to find exciting, only it doesn't work on me. Lots of things that are supposed to work on guys don't work on me. I hope I never find out why.
It makes me feel sad.
But I do it anyway, so I can honestly say I did. It's a present, you know? It's a guy thing.
The whole time, she's looking over my shoulder at her outstretched hand. At least she's honest about what's important to her.
Anyway, I don't take up too much of her time, so I guess I shouldn't feel too bad.
Then, when it's over, I have a laugh to myself, thinking how Andrew calls this Anticlimax Island, except for different reasons.
Not that the first time was any great shakes, or lasted much longer, but at least I knew my girl was there because she liked me. Now that I think about it, though, I had to give Mary Ann a ring, too.
So, anyway. About the knowing thing. So I go back to Bobby and I say, "Hey, thanks, buddy, that was just the ticket."
Pretty much lying.
He says, "Well, it's like this, Crow." That's what they call me, Crow. He says, "We're going back to the hill tomorrow, and you just never know." He says, "If we don't get some now, maybe we won't be able to later. And you got to get you some at least once before you die." He says, "Damn shame to have to go to heaven and tell Saint Peter you forgot to live while you had the chance."
Well, this kind of gets my attention, because how do you suppose he got it in his head that I never did?
So I go back to Andrew, and I say, "What the hell, buddy, did you tell Bobby I was a virgin?"
Andrew says, "Hey, we're all in the same boat, it's nothing you need to be ashamed of."
Because, you see, I still hadn't gotten around to telling him about Mary Ann.
More on that later. That's a whole thing. Don't even get me started on that now.
So not two days down the pike we're charging a cave. Three of us guys go running in at a time, in waves, and I trip over something in the dark and go flying. Whatever it is, I figure it must've saved my life, for the moment, because before I can get up and get back into combat, it's all over. Score one for the U.S. of A.
Hutch comes in with a big, battery-powered light so we can evacuate our dead and wounded.
So then I see what I tripped over. Bobby.
Run through with a bayonet. Eyes like glass, staring up at the cave ceiling. Staring at nothing.
And my first thought call it sick if you will is, At least he got laid first.
And then my second thought is, How'd he know? Who told him it was time?
And then my third thought is that I'm going to throw up and I do.
See, the point of that story is that Bobby was a knower. I wonder sometimes if he was always like that, or if it was just because he was so close. When you're that close to the moment you're going to die, it gets to be like a thin curtain between the two things, the living thing and the dying one, and you can see a lot if you try.
But Mary Ann is living a long life, and she knew things young. Some people do.
Michael, now he presents a challenge. He knows nothing, and he doesn't even mind that. He's not even paying attention. I know I talk about him like he isn't me. And we all know he is. But still. He's going to take some working on.
But then, I've got all the time in the world, right? No buses to catch. No pressing engagements. What better have I got to do?
Copyright © 2002 by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Meet the Author
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of many novels, including Becoming Chloe, Love in the Present Tense, and The Year of my Miraculous Reappearance. She lives in California with her dog Ella.
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Good gob walter
I highly recommend this book. I'd seen the movie version of Pay it Forward and now wish I'd read the book first. This novel uses a life cut short to touch on Forgiveness and a person's willingness to believe in what many people in society continue to question. I've also noticed a religious theme in all of this author's book which I find intriguing, especially in light of the fact that I'm not that fond of organized religion.
In Catherine Ryan Hyde's last two novels (Pay It Forward, Electric God), she demonstrated her prowess in understanding human emotions and her brilliant use of the english language. In her newest novel, 'Walter's Purple Heart', she cements her domination as an incredible storyteller and translator of the language of undying love. 'Walter's Purple Heart', a symbol for the love one man holds as a bright, shining beacon of hope, even after his own death, presents the reader with an interesting premise. Not unlike 'Ghost', and reminiscent of 'The Bridges of Madison County' in tone and flavor (only much, much better written), 'Walter's Purple Heart' resonates with poetry and brilliance. Walter is killed in Guadalcanal in 1942, but his soul is restless. It seems that he cannot 'cross over' and leave his love unspoken for Mary Ann...nor his death a mystery for his best friend Andrew. He enlists the (at first) unwilling aid of Michael, a somewhat paranoid marijuana farmer in California (what other kinds are there?). By giving Michael bizarre dreams of his horrific and untimely death, Walter draws Michael into his reasons for returning, and urges him (or perhaps threatens him is more apt) to find his childhood sweetheart and his former best friend. 'How will I know what to do once I find them?' Michael asks. 'You'll know,' Walter assures him. Nothing is ever quite that simple. While Mary Ann recognizes Walter in Michael's eyes, and their decades-old relationship sparks anew (despite the glaring difference in age), Andrew is reluctant and bitter, refusing to believe that Walter has returned in the unlikely form of Michael. With unerring brilliance, Hyde again displays her ability to make a phrase sing with wonder and beauty, drawing the reader in flawlessly and effortlessly. By presenting Walter's appearance in the story in a no-nonsense fashion, Hyde thereby avoids the 'suspension of belief' issue of dealing with her narrator being a ghost, the sign of a great writer. 'Walter's Purple Heart' proves that Hyde is an author to be reckoned with, her storytelling capabilities destined to become legend, if they're not already!
With 'Pay It Forward' (2000 ) Catherine Ryan Hyde displayed her talent for insightfully portraying human emotions. She underscores that gift with 'Walter's Purple Heart' in which she not only tugs at heartstrings but deftly plays them while building to a poignant crescendo. Related in alternate narrative voices, this is the story of a love unfulfilled and a life unfinished. We meet Michael Steeb, a young California pot farmer, an unambitious fellow who plays the sax and lives in an almost built farmhouse. When unexplainable events occur, Michael turns to a Ouija board for answers. Instead of answers he meets Walter, the spirit of a young soldier killed some 40 years earlier. But in this case death isn't the end, as Walter explains, 'Did you think I was gone? No chance of that. If death was the end of me, this story would be over.' It takes time and persistence for Walter to convince Michael that they are one and the same, that Michael is the reincarnation of Walter. Michael is conflicted enough without two personalities jousting within him, and Walter is unable to move on until some tough questions from his short life are answered. Therefore, Michael reluctantly sets out for New Mexico to find Andrew, Walter's best high school friend and army buddy and Mary Ann, the fiancee who promised to wait. Now, Walter has promised Michael that he will know what to say when he finds Andrew. Not so. Not only is Michael dumbstruck but he finds that Mary Ann and Andrew have been married for 38 years. 'I can't believe you did it, Andrew,' Michael snaps, 'You married my girl.' Andrew thinks Michael is either crazy or a conman. Perhaps both. Mary Ann recognizes Walter in Michael almost immediately and the love affair that was ended by a sniper's bullet many years before begins again despite the vast difference in their ages. Obstinate and obdurate Andrew cannot bring himself to believe that any part of Walter exists in Michael until, finally, during one harrowing night he becomes convinced. As it turns out, that is only one of Michael's tasks. He also comforts Walter's mother who is near death in a nursing home and makes peace with Robbie, Walter's younger brother, who always followed Walter to school a good 20 paces behind. Throughout the narrative Walter reveals insights into the lives of his friends and family, noting, 'It's not even in what we say about ourselves, so much. It's in what we leave out.' From an implacable, remote father, Walter has learned that 'The most important moments of our lives are supposed to go without saying.' With this, her fourth novel, Ms. Hyde reminds us of the significance of forgiveness and the waste of war. At times, Walters memories may be reminiscent of the classic film 'It's A Wonderful Life' in which scenes from a life are replayed to emphasize the significance of everyday events. And, some may question the physical attraction between a 21-year-old Michael and a 60-plus Mary Ann. Yet the story soars above these reservations. It takes a perceptive and gentle hearted writer to create a Walter who says, '......there's nothing so remarkable about me. Except that I'm Walter. And I'm Walter in a way that nobody else ever has been before or ever will be again. And I honestly believe that Walter-ness counts for something.' Indeed, it does.