My rating: 4 of 5 stars
it’s a lot easier to say what this book isn’t than it is–it’s not a Marlboro Man swashbuckling hero-worshipping tale of manly courage. it’s not a Marine Corps recruiting poster. it’s not a tongue-in-cheek takedown of war. it’s not even The Things They Carried, which was a rather more emotionally earnest book than this. this book is dry as a desert.
the short stories herein cover a lot of ground i haven’t seen in a war book before–the guy who spends the entire tour behind a desk in the Green Zone, the mortuary man, the chaplain, the guy who got out, went to college, and can’t decide whether he misses Iraq or not. the guy telling a young woman at college–or trying to–what still rips him up about the experience. the guy who gets so turned on by a mortar attack that he masturbates off a rooftop.
i think there must be a lot of truth in these stories, because they are told with such raw clarity and a deep–what’s the word i’m looking for–ambivalence? frustration? as if the author were scratching hard at the paper, trying to make the thing come out right. he takes no position on the political rightness or wrongness of the war, only on the rightness or wrongness of the deeds done in the context of a war. which, i think, might be the only honest way to approach the experience.
it’s a hard read, sometimes. i didn’t detect any magic carpet of glory there to lessen the heavy going. sometimes it’s really funny, too, although i suspect a lot of things that might be funny to an Iraq vet struck me as rather horrible instead.
i think this is my last war book. i’ve read a lot of them over the years trying very hard to understand why people go to wars, what they get out of it, what it does to them. on that score, i think my education is as complete as it’s ever going to get without going and fighting one myself (quite impossible). i think instead i will read from the point of view of the civilians in the future–there’s damn little fiction out there about war from a civilian point of view–but i’ve had enough of the warriors.
which isn’t a comment on this book, by the way. it’s a good one. if you want to know what We were doing over There, you could certainly do worse. but for me? i want to know what We were doing to Them over There. my education won’t be complete without that.