Mac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants is a strictly-for-laughs novel about life in the military.
Will Stockdale’s father is opposed to his son being drafted, but Will never makes a fuss about anything.
From what Will tells, readers learn he’s an amiable, Georgia redneck, dumber than a box of wet rocks and totally innocent of how the world works.
(Andy Griffith played Pvt. Will Stockdale in the TV, Broadway, and film versions of the novel, which gives you an idea of the character’s personality. You can see Griffith as Will in the black-and-white film version at free movies.)
Bused off to camp to be sorted for duty, Will meets Ben Whitledge, a little guy with big dreams and military knowledge straight from the silver screen.
With the best of intentions, Will and Ben make total fools of the military — and never realize what they’ve done.
Hyman drew on his Air Force experience to create his picture of military life. Readers in 1954 would have understood the military processes that baffle Will and laughed at his ignorance. Readers in today’s post-conscription era will probably be little wiser than Will.
Today’s readers probably won’t laugh as heartily as 1950’s readers either. We’ve seen too many reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies to be delighted by redneck jokes.
In short, No Time for Sergeants is past its sell-by date.
No Time for Sergeants
By Mac Hyman
Random House, 1954
#6 on the 1954 bestseller list
My grade C-
Leslie Lynnton falls in love with Texas, sight unseen, when a rancher who came to buy a horse from her father inspires her to sit up all night reading Texas history. A few weeks later, as Mrs. Jordan Benedict, she finds Texas isn’t at all what she expected, nor, for that matter, is her husband.
Leslie is sophisticated, cultured, politically liberal. Texans like her husband are red-necks by choice: Ivy-league educated but tumble-weed ignorant, champagne and caviar masquerading as hogs and hominy.
Jett Rink, a nasty ranch hand whom Bick has thrown off the ranch, strikes oil and the Benedict’s fortunes fall as Rink’s rise and the face of Texas changes.
The Benedict’s marriage is a rack on which Edna Ferber hangs her speculations about what makes Texans different from other people. Unfortunately, there’s not much to the book other than her speculations.
The plot is thin. Most of the characters have mere walk-on parts. Bick and Leslie, while well-drawn, aren’t engaging people. Leslie is too intellectual and arrogant, her husband too pragmatic and callous. It’s hard to care enough about them to keep reading. My advice: don’t bother.