Gary Fairchild and his friends are headed to the Aquarium Exposition—3 Days of Peace & Music, better known as Woodstock. Gary is against the Vietnam war, and for peace, love, and acceptance. When his group stops at a diner on the way to the festival, Gary sees a young man sitting alone, looking sad and scared. It turns out Richard Ronsman is three days away from being shipped out to Vietnam. He enlisted in hopes that it would bring acceptance from his overbearing father, but it turns out nothing will make the man proud of Richard. When Gary invites Richard to join his group for a few days before he is deployed, at first Richard can’t even imagine it. He has lived a sheltered life with a church-going, farming family and this goes against everything his parents believe in. But with his life about to be totally turned upside down, Richard decides to take a chance and do something crazy for once.
Gary turns out to be so warm and accepting, and Woodstock is totally freeing. Gary recognizes Richard’s interest in men, and makes it clear to Richard he is perfect just as he is. Richard is determined to seize his opportunity to try all the things he never has in his sheltered life, and Woodstock ends up being three days of sex, drugs, and living his life on his own terms. When it is over and Richard has to deploy, he and Gary have made a connection that neither wants to lose, and the men are determined to keep up their relationship. With Richard headed to Vietnam, however, there is an uncertain future ahead for both men. But Richard and Gary have fallen for one another and they will do whatever it takes to be together, even if it means a lot of patience.
I was really excited to check out this story as I find this period in U.S. history to be just fascinating and it is so rare to see any kind of romance set during this time. I particularly liked the juxtaposition Walker creates between Gary, who is part of the hippie counter culture, and Richard, who has enlisted in the military. There is something so interesting to me about Woodstock and the vibe that surrounded it, and I think Walker does a really nice job capturing the culture and the mood of the country during this time.
I had expected from the blurb that most of the book would take place during Woodstock, but it is actually only the first portion of the story. I actually think that works well as the event is only a few days, which isn’t necessarily long enough to really establish a full on relationship between the men. We do see them explore sex, as well as the first stages of a romantic connection. We also see that Richard, for the first time in his life, has some who validates him and makes him feel worthy. Gary helps Richard see he is perfect just how he is, and that gives Richard a freedom, as well as a peace of mind, that helps get him through his upcoming service. The book is divided roughly into three parts I would say, and for fans of epistolary stories, there is a nice section that consists solely of letters between the men. Walker does a great job really solidifying their relationship, so that when they are ultimately back together, we can feel how strong their connection is and truly believe in their romance.
I had a couple of small quibbles here. First off, the section on Woodstock seems to hit really fast in terms of how quickly the guys get together and how easily Richard opens up to Gary. It was a little hard to believe he goes from this ultra reserved farm boy to having sex with another man so fast, and I think this section could have benefited from some more character development to really make it more real feeling. I also think the ending conflict happens so quickly, it just comes on and is resolved in a blink, and I think developing this further would have been really interesting.
A Soldier’s Wish is part of the Christmas Angel collection, a group of standalone stories all by different authors. The books are linked by a Christmas angel that appears in each story, but the books themselves are all unrelated. This book brings in the Christmas element towards the end of the story, so it is not a Christmas book per se, but does feature the holiday prominently toward the end.
So I really enjoyed this one and particularly liked the historical aspects of the book. Although it started kind of fast for me (and ended fast as well), I think Walker does a great job really developing this relationship and making me feel the connection between the men. If you are looking for a holiday story that also explores an interesting time in U.S. history, definitely check this one out.
P.S. One of my favorite moments of the story is when we get a description of Gary’s apartment — oh the orange and brown 70s glory!