Former US Army paratrooper Buckman’s debut drenches the reader in dark folds of despair from beginning to end as it tries to find an answer to the enduring wound of Vietnam.
On an Airborne transport plane full of angry, vomiting paratroopers, Jack Tyne, a no-luck guy from downstate Illinois—who’s as close to a moral center as Buckman allows—watches his fellow soldiers harass and berate a hapless farm kid. Jack wants to help but knows it would be useless. Even though the scene is set in the late 1980s, the shadow of the Vietnam War hangs over all the events that follow. Tyne’s father died during the siege of Hue, and his own military experience—full of veteran officers who try to convince the men that they’ll be fighting soon in Central America—seems like a useless afterthought. On another wavelength, we have Danny Morrison, a Vietnam vet and one-time Chicago cop now a hopeless drunk and crackhead reduced to day labor and running short cons. Haunted by the evils of his wartime experience, Morrison rambles through the city in a pained blur, half-blinded by memories of not only the war but also his hard-knock South Side childhood. The story flips back and forth between Tyne and Morrison, the former just going through the motions of military life until he can get back home and enact revenge on his stepfather, and the latter slipping in and out of the present. The two of them angle toward the same dead-end space at the bottom of the world. Buckman’s style is intense, every line boiling over with rage, loss, and hate. Awash in punch-drunk poetry—you can practically feel the El screeching through its pages—this inspires immediate comparisons to Larry Heinemann’s Vietnam classic, Paco’s Story, but without that its musical sense of rhythm.
A gritty but poetic story that’s too in love with the glory of decay but at least has the courage to stick to its guns to the very end.