WHEN STUDYING history one finds parallels between this period and that one. Between the past and today. They can sometimes be amusing parallels, and other times informative ones. Patterns of the past give us clues to the present. On rare occasions, they help us predict what might happen next.
The career of Elliot Ackerman, a Finalist for the National Book Award in the Fiction category, has similarities to the early life and career of John F. Kennedy.
The most important factor in both cases is the presence of a powerful father. A self-made, dominating figure who the son needs to please, impress, and match. Both fathers, Joseph Kennedy and Peter Ackerman, can be considered complex and contradictory personalities embodying the contradictions– the virtues and failings– of America itself. Both, determined realists and steadfast idealists, accused of corruption while achieving laudable success and spectacular wealth. Both combined business with politics.
The oldest Kennedy son, Joe, died in a foolhardy airplane mission during World War II, trying to prove his courage. The second son, John, proved his bravery in the PT 109 incident in the Pacific during the same war.
Elliot Ackerman plunged into war in at least as dramatic a fashion– proven by his Silver Star and Purple Heart. WHY does a young man of comfort and privilege behave in this manner? What internal or external needs drive him?
Patriotic? Indisputably. Ambitious? How ambitious? A son seeking to escape the very large shadow of a strong and successful father.
Remember that the JFK myth was based not solely on a heroic resume, but also the credentials of an intellectual. John Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his book, Profiles in Courage. A necessary step in his quick ascension to power.
Elliot Ackerman is building as impressive a resume. We can legitimately ask of this man of action if his writing career is one step toward a larger goal. Warrior. Journalist. Author. He’s been involved in politics through he and his father’s organization, Americans Elect.
HOW BIG a role does Elliot’s father play in the construction of Elliot’s career? How far does Peter Ackerman resemble Joseph Kennedy. HOW MUCH does Peter Ackerman want his son to win the National Book Award? These are questions a literary critic and analyst must ask. Peter Ackerman’s life and career, his remarkable attainments and ambition, his ability to push the limits, demand that we ask them.
One recent war hero, Phil Klay (who has interviewed Elliot Ackerman), has won the National Book Award, for Fiction in 2014.
Can Elliot Ackerman do less?
NEXT: We assess the odds in the Fiction category– and perhaps make a prediction.
(Read our previous posts! Ours is THE most thorough coverage of the 2017 National Book Awards.)