While a few vignettes focus on other members of the narrator’s troop, much of the narrative is, by Buccellato’s admission, based on his own experience. This often works in his favor: The deeply personal chapters centered around Vietnam capture the cruelty of war with insight and even beauty, while his accounts of facing death—the sensory overload that comes with watching a friend die—are horrifying and resonant. He intriguingly blends fact and fiction, but what will matter to readers is the mastery over detail Buccellato demonstrates throughout. The narrator describes, during an evacuation, taping his dog tags together to make himself as silent as possible, a little moment that reveals so much.
The sections covering the narrator’s later life (focusing on his marriage, health issues, family, and monetary success) are sprawling and lack the specificity of his war-related episodes. The language becomes less clear, the anecdotes less compellingly connected, and extraneous details cloud the narrative. Buccellato’s time jumps can be confusing, and the choice to identify the narrator only as “he” results in some awkward sentences when other "he"s enter the picture. But despite some stylistic shortcomings, this is a powerfully intimate rendering of a man, his life after the war, and the ways in which it changed him forever.
Takeaway: This absorbing autofiction explores the effects of the Vietnam War through the eyes of an ambitious protagonist.
Great for fans of: Nico Walker’s Cherry, Rick DeStefanis’s Valley of the Purple Hearts.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B-