A fan’s notes on forming a friendship with a favorite author, mixed with other reminiscences of life and loss.
Now in his early 60s, Garcia (Without a Country: The Untold Story of America’s Deported Veterans, 2017, etc.) entered a Chicagoland teendom with a fascination with Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron of World War I fame, who died at the age of 25 while looking to add to his count of 80-plus Allied planes shot down. The author came by that fascination by accident, having chanced on a biography in a bookstore. “By the time I put the book down,” he writes, “I’d come to realize that Richthofen was once a boy like me who also had a desire for adventure.” Garcia’s own adventures, while less lethal, took him early into the land of Richthofen scholarship, beginning with the author of that biography, Dale Titler, to whom Garcia wrote a fan letter, opening a sporadic, decadeslong correspondence and finally a meeting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: “For now,” he writes, “they contemplate each other a moment longer…past and present merging into the now middle-aged man he holds against him, no longer a boy although he can’t help but think of him as that driven youngster….” In the essays where Titler appears, Garcia has a fine foil. Other autobiographical pieces in this set of connected essays are less focused, though some have the grit and bite of a good noir novel: “About a year after Bill stabbed Johnny in the neck,” opens one, “Randy began drinking again.” There’s a whole tragedy built into those few words, as with other scattered moments: “A blind woman I know told me that with each passing day it gets harder and harder for her to remember what it was like to see.”
A mixed bag but overall a well-written and thought-through exercise in remembrance.