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What others are saying about 

A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line

The Midwest Book Review

Volume 22, Number 1 

January 2023

By Diane Donovan

A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line: When Conscience and Convention Collided is a memoir that starts not with the usual review of the author's childhood, but with a prologue about Russia's attack on Ukraine and the toll this has taken on the world. In the course of describing events of that struggle, Cary Donham examines the allegory of Br'er Rabbit and the tar baby, reconsidering it not as a tale of racism, but one of resistance, "with Br'er Rabbit being the alter ego of enslaved African-Americans.

That tar baby, this resistance, and its interpretation open the memoir with the knowledge that this will be an unusual story filled with wider-ranging perspectives than those created by personal experience and response alone. This particular reference ends with the thought-provoking insight that "Wars are like the tar baby. Once they start, countries start kicking and punching, increasing military aid, sending more troops, building more weapons and suddenly realize they are stuck. But so far, no one has found a briar patch to escape to."

This idea segues neatly into the Introduction, where a New York Times headline captures the news of a West Point cadet seeking discharge as a conscientious objector. That cadet was the author, and his spiritual revelation that led to an unprecedented request for discharge continued to resonate throughout his life. But the meat of the story lies in these early years and how a young man from a military town came to realize that his religious beliefs were in direct opposition to training to be an effective killer.

From gambits to indoctrinate, educate, and shape the minds and bodies of young men to West Point's tolerance of hazing, the struggle to make it through training to graduation, and the confrontations Cary Donham faced as he found his lessons challenging the core of his beliefs, readers receive a "you are here" feel of the West Point milieu and the experiences of young men and women who are students at the academy.

Its politics, social atmosphere, and training are all reviewed in a book that charts three years of conflicted training and the "wrinkle" the author introduced to an institution which was not prepared for his ilk. At the heart of this story is a review of the process of staying true to one's beliefs versus the moral dilemma involved in accepting and believing in training and institutions of authority.

Anyone contemplating military service or the methods and responses of being a conscientious objector will find that this memoir represents more than one young man's experiences. It serves as an information-laden blueprint following the West Point training program and ideology, and ideally will be chosen as a thought-provoking review before enlistment.

Libraries looking for books filled with information, photos, and military court case processes will find A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line a unique standout for its thought-provoking inspections of the ultimate charge and challenge of military training programs.

Kirkus Review (Click to see full review)

Published December 28, 2023

"An engrossing memoir written with admirable candor and incisive self-reflecction. "

Readers' Favorites
Review Rating: 5 Stars 

Reviewed by Bryone Peters for Readers’ Favorite

A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line: When Conscience and Convention Collidedby Cary Donham is a riveting memoir of  his time in the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he applied for conscientious objector status.  Donham’s conviction was that the Army training is to kill and yet not be a sinner, which is morally ambiguous. He was trapped because he could not leave, nor could he stay. The glaring abuse of power by the Army resulted in prolonged legal fallout. West Point questioned his loyalty. The Army treated him with scorn and punished him. He could not believe the despicable behavior of so many high-ranking army officers. They vehemently refused to
demonstrate empathy or gracious professionalism in an unprecedented situation. But Donham’s application was an unassuming cogent application that attested to his sincerity.

A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line by Cary Donham is fantastic. I enjoyed the prologue that links with current events. It drew me into the narrative immediately and emotionally. Donham had a sincere personal tenet against
killing and everything about war. However, the reaction of the Army was reprehensible. Donham describes the legal proceedings and the events that followed, which were not without drama. The result is a highly moving but intellectually stimulating read. By the final court case, I was sitting on tenterhooks. He was unwilling to capitulate but was weary due to the arduous process. West Point, using typical bad-guy behavior, tried to suppress the matter. This made it horrendous, yet the memoir remains an entertaining and enjoyable read.

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