Literature of war

I’m not going to bore anybody with excuses here. I just didn’t feel like writing blog posts while I was writing papers my final two semesters of college, but now I’ve graduated and I’m unemployed, so I have lots of time! I’m going to set a modest goal of one post every two weeks (since I do hope to be employed sooner rather than later), but that means the content will be more worthwhile and less rambling!  Onward!

So, even though I was not making time for blog posts this past year, I was learning some pretty cool stuff. I had an English minor, so this last semester was packed full of English courses and the lone math class I put off as long as possible. The math class was not cool, but one of the English classes was Soldiers, Trauma, and Identity in American Literature, and it was fascinating. I’m really interested in writing about war and masculinity, and even though my take on those subjects tends toward sci-fi or fantasy rather than realism, it was an excellent introduction to the war literature tradition. Of course, the reading was intense; there’s really no comic relief in stories about people (or entire cultures) who have been irrevocably damaged by war, but it was worthwhile, powerful stuff. The literature was complemented by some theory pieces, and I certainly would never be so brazen as to think I’m now perfectly equipped to write soldiers or veterans, it gave me a good idea of what I’d be taking on if I were to pursue that subject seriously.

We read eight books over the course of the semester, but my favorites were Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, and Phantom Noise by Brian Turner. Every book we read for the course was important in its own right, but these were the ones I found really compelling. Billy Lynn is good in a way you can’t miss; it kind of slaps you in the face with its brilliance. Ceremony is just as good but really difficult and complex, and, as a book of poetry, Phantom Noise is no easy read but it is marvelous.

How about you? Have you ever taken a class or read a book (or group of books) that dealt with war? What about other difficult subjects?



Excerpt: Prodigal

Update 11:03 a.m.: I added a bit more to this so it leaves off somewhere a little more interesting and less ambiguous.


I’d been watching the guy all night. I told myself it was the gravitational pull of his enormous mass that kept sucking my eyeballs in that direction, but I was actually wondering if this would be the one to get me killed. If he killed me I wouldn’t have too much to be ashamed about; he looked like what you might get if you threw a Navy Seal and a rhinoceros in a soft serve machine and hit “Twist.”

My phone buzzed violently against the lacquered wood surface of the bar, startling me. I snatched it up, saw it was an unknown number with a hell of a lot of threes, and jabbed the “Ignore” button. I stuffed the phone into my tiny excuse of a pocket—I’d quickly figured out why girls were always complaining about their jeans’ lack of carrying capacity—and watched my gargantuan target a little more surreptitiously.

He was at least six and a half feet, maybe a little more, and all veiny, thick-cut muscle topped by a bald head. I couldn’t see the color of his eyes but I figured they were gray—steely gray, of course—and he had a cinderblock for a chin. I could see two faint scars running from his nose to his ear. Probably from that mutant, two-headed grizzly he wrestled during his time at the School for Tyrannosaurus Tanks. If that mutant grizzly didn’t even make it out, what chance did I have? I wasn’t really a small guy, but I might as well have been an anorexic schoolgirl compared to the elephant-on-steroids sitting a few stools down from me.

I wondered how tall his dad was. I imagined him just a little shorter, still big, but the blood-swollen muscle would have started to wrinkle and sag and the built-out abs would be more like a paunch. Or maybe he was really short and all his son’s height was courtesy of his wife’s side. That’d be a kicker, wouldn’t it? He’d had to put up with the ribbing with his wife’s taller brothers since he married her, and then his own son was taller than him by the time he was twelve. Either way, he would still have to look up when he looked at his son, and either way, he’d hate it.

Steroid Stan held up two bratwurst-fingers at the bartender. “Two beers,” he said in a voice that made Darth Vader sound like a mezzo-soprano. I choked on my shot and rum went searing up my nasal passages. The brunette next to me looked at me doubtfully and dangled a napkin in front of my face by the tips of her gold-lacquered nails.

“Thanks,” I gasped, shamelessly wiping my streaming eyes and nose. I glanced down the bar and saw Mount Muscle was about to walk away. It was now or never. I tugged my beanie tighter over my ears.

When I stumbled into him it felt like walking into a California redwood. He tensed up immediately, but when he turned and saw me I could almost read his brain processes. Very small male/girly V-neck/tight jeans/looks like he’s been crying/no threat detected/continuing scan.

I registered there was a girl on his arm. She was blond and tan, and her eyebrows had such an extreme, over-plucked arch that I wondered if she had taped them there. But the most interesting thing about her was that she couldn’t have been more than an inch over five feet even. It was too easy.

I looked down at her and then up at him incredulously. “Buddy,” I said. “Is your dick not proportional? Or are you trying to kill her?”

That got his attention. He swung his head around like a bull looking for the matador, the tendons of his neck bulging and his eyes narrowing as he tried to decide if I was insulting him. I purposely ignored him, turning instead to his girlfriend and summoning a smile so lascivious I might as well have just waved a red cape in his face.

“Sweetheart,” I said, trying not to stare at her eyebrows. “I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of fun with him tonight. Why don’t you come with me, we’ll find a place that isn’t a total shithole, and then we’ll have a good time, huh?”

Too. Easy.