All the Difference
By Peter Stine (reviewer)
All the Difference
by Daniel Lavery
(CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)
I finished All the Difference, and what a fine memoir it is! I found it totally engrossing. The opening swept me in. I can imagine the pain his mother felt, he felt, and then the contrasting personality of his father, that swimming lesson he gave Dan, wow. It is so rich in episode, and in particular, the chapter describing Dan shooting the crabs and beautiful bird, his remorse, and Ruthie's gentle instruction in the holiness of all creatures, even the Golden Garden Spider, struck me. Or his discovery of the sanctity of nature's beauty on his travels, or of baseball. The writing is lucid and concrete and engaging, he is on his way. Dan's story that begins in a military family split by divorce and ends with him emerging as a brilliant ACLU lawyer in California is quite remarkable and riveted me for days.
The section on Yokohama I loved and Eddie is a great glimpse of raw American energy. Dan's portraits of scrappy uneducated types are consistently strong. His account of cultural awakening is very well done, a great chapter, especially his discovery that the Japanese were individual beings physically and mentally, that our racist stereotype of them was nothing more. Strong descriptions of nature in trips with Alex. His sexual initiation in Yokosuka is cool. I liked the sports here, and Tom's converting him to fundamentalist Christianity. Good on his religious inquiries and the skepticism offered by Jerry's dad, since the memoir is a long tale of deconversion, overthrowing indoctrination. His brush with death in the train tunnel was excruciatingly real.
The civil rights history delivered by the professor on the Sunset Limited is a bit undigested in the narrative, but probably necessary to educate the reader to the world they will be entering. I admired Dan's gutsy, principled withdrawal from NROTC at Duke, again a dramatic self-definition. Good on learning the brutality of the Old Testament God; it brought to mind Stephen Pinker's Better Angels of our Nature. A great account of his religious bible classes and new agnosticism. That freshman Dean of Students calling Dan a low IQ case is amazing. Dan's evolving shift from Duke to the Naval Academy is traced in subtle detail, and his account of that Plebe year fascinated and shocked me. Standing up to the two bullying upperclassmen over civil rights and then the great portrait of Joe Duff is superb. Dan is at his best when, against the odds, he courageously stands up to arrogant and abusive authority figures, whether Duff, the Folsom prison molester, or the landlord threatening his tenant — these moments sparkle, the portrait of malice is stark, and his own moral principles manifest.
It is harrowing to read of his experience as an aviator on an AR5C, and I remember Dan telling me about the lethal risks involved in the late 1960s. It was fun to read about his time at Berkeley then, Jerry, his well-described acid trip, Delaware Street, etc. The conclusion of the memoir about Dan's amazing legal work for the UFW, ACLU, his alliance with Jerry, life with Joan, all of it was interesting, totally engrossing. Finally, I noticed throughout the last third of the memoir Dan labeled the Vietnam War as genocidal, which is exactly right. Thanks for the opportunity to read this terrific book.
Dr. Peter Stine, Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley, is a professor of English at South Carolina State U., Wayne State U., and U. of Michigan.