Dispatches: blown away again

You could be in the most protected space in Vietnam and still know that your safety was provisional, that early death, blindness, loss of legs, arms or balls, major and lasting disfigurement–the whole rotten deal–could come in on the freakyfluky as easily in the so called ways, you heard so many of these stories it was a wonder anyone was left alive to die in the firefights and motor-rocket attacks.

Dispatches, Michael Herr

While searching the book stacks at home last night I came across Herr’s Dispatches.  I have not read it in around 35 years, so I decided to try a few pages to see if it was still fresh.  Damn, fresh ain’t the word for it.  Frenentic, a prose style manic and on the edge.  I classify it with the other books from the Sixties and early Seventies that fall in the categories New Journalism and the Nonfiction Novel: books like Capote’s In Cold Blood, Thompson’s Hells Angels, Wolfe’s Electric Cool Aid Acid Test, Mailer’s Armies of the Night, and Pirsig’s The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

The best half dozen books to come out of the Vietnam War are Herr’s, Caputo’s A Rumor of War, Kovik’s Born on the Fourth of July, O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Mailer’s Armies of the Night, and Halberstam’s The Best and Brightest.  I judge Dispatches as the best because Herr confurs a near impossible prose style.

Lots of good nonfiction has come from the Iraq War.  I now wait for the gritty and wild books written by a new generation who were there and saw things up close and personal.

However, with Dispatches the bar is set very high.  Reading it again is blowing me away just as it did the first time.

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Published in: on July 14, 2009 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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