In this debut memoir, Young (English/Centralia Coll.) reflects on his experiences joining the Marine Corps at the age of 18 and his subsequent tour in Iraq.
The author, who teaches creative writing and composition, uses a variety of literary styles, but he is straightforward about his own shortcomings: “You’ve chosen the United States Marine Corps infantry based on one thing: you got drunk and crashed your car into a fire hydrant sometime in the early morning and think—because your idea of masculinity is severely twisted and damaged by the male figures in your life and the media with which you surround yourself—that the only way to change is the self-flagellation achieved by signing up for war.” Throughout the book, Young pays homage to many clear influences, not least Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers (1979) and its film adaptation, Full Metal Jacket, as well as Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead (2003) and Tim O’Brien’s similarly episodic The Things They Carried (1990). The shock and trauma of war come into play in Young’s stories, but he also gives equal time to discussions of boredom, masturbation, infidelity, shame, and regret, all rendered in a caustically humorous tone. With chapters such as “How to Ruin a Life,” “How to Throw a Drunken Punch,” and “How to Feel Ashamed for Things You Never Did,” the author performs a certain amount of literary alchemy, using style and the space between memory and fiction to transform his raw experiences into self-lacerating works of art. By the time the end comes, after three combat deployments, he was a changed man. “I have acted like a bullet,” he writes. “I entered lives and bounced and ricocheted and broken and torn. Now I am going to exit one life and that life will have no say.”
A real war story told in fragments by a gifted young writer trying to come to grips with his experiences.