THE VOLUNTEER by Salvatore Scibona


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A soldier who goes off to war returns, but the war continues for generations to come.

The child is father to the man. But who is the child’s father, and what are the true names and identities of both father and son? Scibona (The End, 2008) delivers an enigmatic story that hinges on secrecy and uncertainty. Vollie Frade, befitting his name, joins the Marine Corps at the height of the Vietnam War, forging his father’s signature because he’s still a minor, shocking his mother, who says resignedly, “I’m surprised they let a person just take himself away like that.” With that, Vollie is off to a place in which he will experience all the customary hells of war but where he will also shed one identity to take another. “He kept on unaccountably not getting killed,” writes Scibona, but odd bits of metal and ugly misadventures find him anyway—and so does a spook named Lorch, a specialist in the “more modern intelligence function of covert operations,” who instructs Vollie that although he had been in Cambodia, he really hadn’t, because Congress had passed a law against crossing into Cambodia: “Ergo you were not.” Equipped with a new name and job, Vollie roams a world in which meaning is resolutely unfixed. He acquires a wife and son along the way, and happiness does not ensue; the mood turns to Carver territory, punctuated by occasional improbabilities more suited to Pynchon, leading up to a spasm of violence that’s unexpected but perfectly appropriate. As with his first novel, with which it has thematic similarities, Scibona’s story takes in a broad sweep of time, looking into the future to foresee an end that may not be so terrible but that is just as certain. The plot sometimes threatens to come off the rails, but throughout, the narrative is marked by distinctive lyricism and striking images: “They were standing on a street corner in 1973. The sun fell everywhere like a terrible shower, and they cast no shadows.”

A touch overlong and sometimes perplexing but original and memorable.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-525-55852-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2018


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