A conscientious objector flees enlistment in Vietnam by making a new life in Sweden in this posthumous autobiographical collection.
Bruce Proctor’s memoir, compiled and edited by his younger brother, poet and novelist Alan Robert Proctor (Adirondack Summer, 2013, etc.), revisits the late 1960s: the horrors of total war in Vietnam, the unpredictable tides of the American counterculture, and the feeling of being young in a mad world. “Not fear of death, but fear of not being able to live while taking part in killing” is what drives Bruce to renounce his citizenship and leave the country when the National Guard is called up in 1968. “I was born to be a Swede,” Bruce declares on arrival in the Scandinavian country, and he’s besotted by the ease of life and the clear summer light. But the nights grow long, work is hard to find, and whiskey is too easily available. He works in the warehouse of a chemical plant, then as a lumber hand, then by driving a taxi. He goes back to school to earn a master’s degree but eventually sours on academia. Finally, in 1972, he and his wife decamp for Canada. The letters and journal entries here read as a kind of collage of the period: writers and addressees switch off, stories of sailing and camping sit alongside reflections on the horrors of war, the uselessness of the American opposition, newspaper clippings, photographs, and Alan’s own poems. “He could be humorous, pragmatic, philosophical, obtuse, and mystical all in one paragraph,” the editor writes of his brother, who died in 2011, and all those qualities are evident here. Editor Proctor has obviously put great patience and care into selecting these fragments, and the time was well-spent: readers are never lost, always engaged, and often charmed by the liveliness of Bruce’s prose (and of Alan’s verse scattered throughout the text). “It is not unusual for a Swede not to speak if he has nothing to say and perhaps it is this quality which gives the impression of depth,” Bruce writes at one point. Neither brother holds his tongue in this collection, and readers are richer for it.
An inviting exchange of stories and ideas across two continents and half a tumultuous decade.