A Ticket to Hell: On Other Men's Sins
by J.J. Zerr
Primix Publishing

"'What saved me,' Father Dom said, 'was discovering the power of silence. Especially when you mistakenly think you’ve lost God.'"

With multiple plotlines featured throughout the novel, the dichotomy between Jon's life as "Stretch," the Navy lieutenant flying combat missions over Vietnam, and that of his wife, Teresa, is eye-opening. Five-year-old Jennifer and three-year-old namesake Edgar Jon are already a handful. However, Jon and Teresa are expecting baby number three.

More than anything else, Zerr's work does a commendable job of providing a glimpse into the life and challenges not only of those in the military but also of their spouses who are often left to juggle the household responsibilities amid their incessant worries of whether or not they will be widowed in young age. The intertwined drama of Navy life and domestic responsibilities is on full display. Yet, it is the power of prayer and the strength of Jon and Teresa that regularly transcend the obstacles and uncertainties they encounter.

From the opening pages, Jon's level of adoration and adulation for his high school sweetheart is undeniable, especially when he exclaims that a pregnant Teresa reminds him of Mary in Michelangelo's Pieta. As the narrative progresses, the author cycles between peeling back layers of backstory, such as the heartbreaking loss of their child, Daniel, to that of airplane sabotage by Amos Kane, a bitter former pilot banished to being a maintenance officer. When fellow Warhorse pilots AB and Skunk are shot out of the sky, Tuesday and Botch are caught by Jon nearly red-handed, disposing of Kane's body and making it appear to be a suicide. The moral and ethical internal struggle begins here for Jon.

The believability of Jon Zachery as a person speaks to the author's skill in strong character development. His genuine sense of moral conflict upon keeping his actions unknown to Teresa establishes instant relatability and a flawed humanity or moral compass. He sincerely believes that by keeping the burden on himself, he is keeping Teresa away from committing sins by association. As secret after secret continues to weigh him down, Jon beats to the sound of his own drum, unafraid of standing up to commanding officers and always laser-focused on the task at hand. Through Jon, Zerr explores an individual's ability to lead almost a double life. On the one hand, there's the family man who is incredibly vulnerable and motivated to provide a bright future for his family. Yet on the other, there is the man who self-proclaims his lust "to kill those VC."

Just when Jon's combat time appears to be nearing an end, he is thrust into a unique opportunity with more contentious relationships. Perhaps one of the more intriguing factors of this novel is the steady dose of perspectives from Teresa that unveil her fear of widowhood. This is shown particularly in how the Warhorse wives have come together as a collective unit to make sure she gives birth to a healthy baby. Using Jon and Teresa as a guide map, the author clearly shows the rollercoaster ride that military life can be, regardless of whether one is a member of the military or the spouse of one. The ripple effects of choosing such a life are felt throughout an entire community. For instance, at the whim of a commanding officer, Jon's leave gets cut short. He goes from a decommissioning squadron and a re-acclimation process to operating top-secret weapons systems.

Though there are many characters sprinkled throughout the book, there is little doubt that Jon, as "Stretch," and Teresa govern the direction of the novel. The constant play between baby Ruth being born and nurtured in the warmth of the Warhorse wives and Jon's increasing role and commendations demonstrate the tight-knit intricacy of relationships and dependencies of military families. Overall, Zerr's narrative peels back the curtain on military life, from missions to life at home. It is a predominantly character-driven book that shows the evolution of Jon and Teresa as they navigate through their self-doubts and fears and embrace their prayers for a bright future together.

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