3.5 stars, actually.
This one is a really tough one for me to review. In some ways, I really, really liked this book. In others, I had a major issue with it.
LIKE: I loved the writing. I thought the writing was exceptional. The author is very talented at bringing a myriad of emotions to the surface in a short story, and for developing complex characters. The stories themselves were fascinating, for the most part. I especially liked On The Rainy River, where a young boy, on the verge of crossing the border into Canada and dodging the draft, turns around and makes the choice to go to war, believing it was the more cowardly choice to make. I also thoroughly enjoyed Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, and Speaking of Courage. These stories will stay with me for a while.
DISLIKE: Basically, the book read to me like this. A great story, and then another great story, and I’ll use my real name as a character in this story to show just how real these stories are, and wait, some minor details may be embellished because this is war and there is so much to remember and so much to forget, and then another good story, and another, and well, remember this is war, and so most times, in war stories, about half of it is true and half of it is made up, and then another good story, although with a little less impact due to the previous confession, and then another good story, if any of it is true that is, and then wait, did I say some of it was true, well no that’s not the case, although it IS true that I was a soldier, but pretty much all of the rest of it is completely made up.
By around ¾ into the book, I was on autopilot, reading the rest with bland indifference. Even the sections where the author paused to explain what the actual truth was, I found myself not believing. Not wanting to let myself be fooled again. I found the last story about the little girl Linda the most unbelievable of them all.
Fiction to me is a form of magic. It is a contract between the author and the reader, where the author writes the fiction, and the reader reads it. Although both know the story isn’t true, not a word is spoken between them about it. They are both complicit in the beauty of the story itself, treating it as if it could be true. Magic, however, has much less of an impact when the magician, while performing the trick, tells you exactly how it’s done. And that’s the feeling I was left with after I finished this book.