I wasn't disappointed: at just 90 pages Return of the Soldier is a slight thing, and the plot--a riff on Rip Van Winkle--offers little by way of substance that you haven't seen before. But West is an absolutely distinctive sensibility and even in this youthful trifle, she has a way of putting her own stamp on things. Indeed, my only strong complaint is that it is almost impossible to read aloud right, at least at sight. Her sentences re so serpentine, not to say feline or leonine, that you almost stub your toe on the syntax and bloody your nose on the iimplacable structure.
One thing that still strikes me as ironic, though. Return of the Soldier apparently ranks as a feminist classic, and in a narrow sense, I suppose I can see why this is so. It's a story told by a woman, herself a figure of inarguable raw talent. And it is a war story (or at least a home-from-the-wars story) told from a woman's point of view. Yet it is hard to imagine a story more man-centroc than this: everything and everybody revolves around Chris--poor, damaged Chris, just home from the wars. Plus (what is almost the same thing) the healing power of women: the restorative power of women and their indispensability in accomplishing what seems to be the end: the healing and general well-being of the man.
So it was not until now, when it happened to my friends, when it was my dear Chris and my dear Margaret who sat thus englobed in peace as in a crystal sphere, that I knew it was the mot significant, as it was the loveliest, attitude in the world. It means that the woman has gathered the soul of the man into her soul and is keeping it warm in love and peace so that his body can rest quiet for a little time. That is a great thing for a woman to do.West goes on to concede that there are other great things that a woman may do, but that is a detail. For the moment, here is a central mission, here is fulfillment, here is home. From stuff like this, you've come a long way baby indeed.--Rebecca West, The Return of the Soldier 57 (Digireads.com 2008)