DIRTY WORK by Larry Brown


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With a title fully evocative of Brown's hard-core realist aesthetic, his first novel deals with folks ""facing the music,"" as he called his collection of stories published last year. And here, too, tough luck seems to be playing the tune. Two Vietnam vets, innocent victims of fate, find themselves side by side in a southern VA hospital some 20 years after their time ""in country."" Braiden Chaney's been in bed the whole time, his arms and legs shot-off by machine-gun fire, dreaming of his African ancestors, and carrying on a dialogue about death with his regular visitor, Jesus Christ. His only relief comes from a genuine angel of mercy--the voluptuous Diva--a dope-smoking nurse who, we later learn, is actually his sister, which explains her unusual attentiveness, as well as her reluctance to help him commit suicide. When Walter (no last name) shows up next to him one day, Braiden recognizes his savior--a poor white boy from Mississippi whose face was blown away by shrapnel, and whose occasional seizures land him in various VA hospitals. This diffident son of a cotton-picker becomes loquacious, thanks to Diva's steady supply of cold beer and wacky weed. A recluse since returning from Vietnam, as he tells Braiden, Walter has recently found love in the arms of a young woman, herself badly scarred from a childhood accident. But Walter's night of self-revelation, coaxed on by Braiden, mostly covers a lifetime of woe and injustice: childhood memories of a schoolyard bully; of his father beating a mule to death; of his father killing a man--violence committed in frustration and despair. Braiden trades Nam nightmares, and fades into fantasies of walking and black warriors in a jungle of lions and nubile maidens. In the morning, all hope for Waiter's happiness comes to a crashing halt when he learns the bizarre and grisly consequences of his latest seizure. And the quality of his mercy finally reveals itself as well. Jesus weeps in this fatalistic story of the War's leftovers--a novel certainly equal to Johnny Got His Gun, which it modestly invokes.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1989
ISBN: 1565125630
Publisher: Algonquin