There’s a lot of good writing in this interestingly conceived anthology, which includes three short stories and thirty-six excerpts from (mostly) novels about “the wars of this century.” British novelist Faulks’s otherwise generic introduction does make the challenging point that “serious fiction has moved further from plot and incident” in our time, thus making war fiction something of an endangered literary species. Therefore, the salvaging of passages from such comparatively obscure fictions as Stratis Myrivilis’s grim Life in the Tomb (1924), Wolfgang Koeppen’s A [sic] Death in Rome (1954) and A.D. Gristwood’s The Somme (1927) provides a genuine service. Other excerpts, including an overfamiliar one from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and a pedestrian one from Larry Heinemann’s overrated Paco’s Story are arguably rather less justifiable. One wishes, furthermore, that the editors had found room for such estimable chroniclers of wartime experience as Waugh, Grass, and Solzhenitsyn. Conversely, the selections depicting WWII show an extraordinary range of artistic effects and subjects: there’s the ordeal of combat (Norman Mailer, James Jones), along with the Atlantic sea war (Alistair MacLean), the science of codebreaking (Robert Harris), medical atrocities committed against POWs (Shusako Endo), the bombing of Hiroshima (Martin Booth), and the refugee experience (Louis Begley).
That latter chunk of text alone makes War Fiction a more than worthwhile collection.