A debut collection of short stories detailing the lives of American soldiers.
A contemporary trend in military memoirs is to depict a soldier as more of a victim than a warrior, traumatized rather than ennobled by service. Swimming against that current, O’Meara gathers together six fictional stories that celebrate martial honor while still exposing the grim aspects of warfare. The first, titular story centers on the rigors of boot camp; it’s dominated by the specter of the Vietnam War and tells of the deep camaraderie that results from facing hardship together. In “Cantor’s Fairytale,” the author layers multiple narratives over one another as a group of soldiers passes the time besting each other with beer-soaked tales of military life. “A Sort of War Story” depicts the horrors of an actual battle in which six American infantrymen in Vietnam hold off a troop of enemy soldiers several times their number. The stories don’t sidestep complex issues, such as race; in “Justice,” a black sergeant is threatened with a court martial for stealing a jeep, an unusually harsh and suspicious penalty. However, a jury of officers is offended by the injustice of it all and acquits him of the charges. The dialogue is always gritty, inclining toward authenticity rather than political correctness. For example, an infamously demanding drill sergeant explains the rationale for his mercilessness: “Remember, if somebody dies, and they’re dyin’ everyday, it’s your fault. Remember this little drill—ain’t nothin’ to what we’re gonna’ have to do in the Nam.” The stories use Vietnam as a theme and serve as an instructive counterpoint to narrative accounts, novelistic and cinematic, which often emphasize drug use, amoral abandon, and postbellum trauma as soldiers’ defining features. Still, they present the chilling violence of battle and its psychological impact in unvarnished form. In O’Meara’s telling, despite routine acts of heroism and courage, the soldiers who served in Vietnam did so humbly, out of senses of patriotic ardor and professional pride. Overall, this is a gripping glimpse into the lives of soldiers living and dying side by side.
An unabashedly patriotic compilation that impressively sheds light on the nature of military life.