PACO'S STORY by Larry Heinemann


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As with its predecessor (Close Quarters, 1977), the real achievement of this hip, bitter and ultimately unpleasant novel about a wounded Vietnam vet is in the narrative voice: a nasty rivetingly specific voice belonging to a dead ""grunt"" who's describing (for the benefit of an unidentified listener, ""James"") Paco Sullivan's miraculous lone survival of a bloody jungle firefight and subsequent aimless drifting through a (familiarly) unfeeling, crass America. After narrative disclaimers (""This ain't no war story, James""), Paco's Story begins brilliantly, in Vietnam: Paco is lying wounded in the jungle heat, surrounded by the bodies of his fallen friends. On the third day, a medic (whose life is altered fatefully because of it) finds Paco; and Paco is patched together and sent home. The medic suffers a heart attack; he later becomes an alcoholic who recounts the story of Paco's rescue in bars. This is the last attempt the novel makes at meaning. Henceforth, Paco (about whom we know only that he has no home or family) simply drifts, a collection of scars and badly mended bones, while small-town Americans stare blankly, jeer or lecture at him. For a while he washes dishes at a beautifully described greasy spoon called the Texas Lunch; but nothing much happens to him there, and after a while he moves on. Early chapters here have the urgency and cohesion of formal tragedy. But late chapters let urgency and accumulated tension lapse into a long snarl of bitterness about the legacy of Vietnam--nothing but speeches and affectless, gory memories intended to shock. It's ugly--and too bad.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux