George Patton is a name that used to be household. A gruff persona who was able to lead American forces to victory in both world wars, it’s only in the past few decades, as survivors of those eras pass on, that the General’s name has begun to slip from public memory. Part proud cowboy and part bulldog, his was, in many ways, the face of the American war front in Europe—a fact glorified in the 1970 film titled simply Patton. Beyond the biographical and deep into the personal, Andy Duncan’s 1999 novella Fortitude is a hallucinatory, prognostic, and poignant look beyond the unyielding façade of the general.
‘Fortitude’ defined as “mental strength and courage that allows someone to face danger, pain, etc.” according to Merriam-Webster’s Online, ‘bull-headed’ is a less formal way of stating George Patton’s worldview. Angry and ashamed of cowardly behavior, he led armies standing in the van, empowering them with simple speeches that appealed to their base emotions. An idealized war hero perhaps only in presentation, the man’s thoughts remain something of a mystery—something which Duncan, who obviously did his homework before writing Fortitude, attempts to speculate upon. The result is appealing biographical material in non-pedantic form.
Fortitude is something of a David Lynch film. Duncan selects scenes and moments, very few of which are actually battle related, from Patton’s life, and presents them in the guise that from the very beginning Patton knew his fate. Doubt creeps in as a result, but inevitably he steps to the podium to take the verdict he knows is coming. Opening with some of his first military action on the Texas border involving Mexican rebels, Patton afterwards makes a list of the important moments of his future, hoping to decide whether or not to avoid them. Complicating matters are the illusions that appear—his father and grandfather, all involved with war in some way, as well as moments from the more distant past, Scotland, England, and France among them.
Duncan one of the top writers of short fiction today, Patton’s personal moments are wonderfully executed and presented. Patton’s meeting with Dwight Eisenhower, a run-in with a repairwoman fixing a wooden tank, resting in a bomb crater with his savior after being shot, and meeting with a soldier afraid to fight are carefully crafted to create the perfect mood. Wikipedia may be the go-to source for biographical information today, but reading Fortitude gives Patton’s life vitality the page simply can't.