Ennis and Jack in World War II
After seeing the film, my thoughts went back to a little-known novel I had read a quarter of a century ago that covered some of the same territory: "Wingmen," by Ensan Case. This is a love story of two airmen in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Unlike the Ennis and Jack of "Brokeback Mountain," these two pilots are educated and aware of their feelings, while taking great care to burnish their straight image. They know what can happen if the truth leaks out. The author spends much time building up the background of their naval air unit in the South Pacific. The two men do not get together sexually until p. 300. In this way, the novel provides the "thick description" that is lacking in the Proulx story, where the two men's sudden access of hormones is unexplained--as it remains unexplained in the film.
Unwittingly, perhaps, Proulx reverted to an obligatory convention of the post-World War II era, the obligatory death of one of the two men. That does not happen to the two pilots of Case’s novel. They become partners in a hardware business in San Jose, California. To all intents and purposes they are married, and this lasts for twenty-four years. Not everything is peaches and cream, though, as the older man, Jack Harbison, becomes increasingly fearful that they will be found out. This fear probably contributes to the heart attack that kills him. The younger man is devastated.
Ensan Case, possibly a pseudonym, seems never to have written another novel. Still, some readers recognize the intrinsic merit of "Wingmen." Most paperbacks of this type can be found on ebay for $.99 or thereabouts. Wingmen costs $65.