This book practically  killed Michael Herr, first of all to research it in Vietnam, and then to write it back in America where it took him years to overcome his demons. His description of the aftermath of a firefight is wonderfully memorable for the gloriously unexpected final line: And every time, you were so weary afterward, so empty of everything but being alive that you couldn't recall any of it, except to know that it was like something else you had felt once before. It remained obscure for a long time, but after enough times the memory took shape and substance and finally revealed itself one afternoon during the breaking off of a fire fight. It was the feeling you'd had when you were much, much younger and undressing a girl for the first time. 

Also unbeatable in this book is the dialogue. "I gotta be gettin' a mo'--effective--deodorant." When I first read this book I couldn't imagine how Michael Herr managed to take such great notes of conversations in the heat of battle (or anywhere else). Then when I talked to Herr he told me that a lot of the people in his book were "composite characters," though he said the dialogue was absolutely real. He also said he made up a lot of the names of the units and the places where they fought. This was no secret, he said. In France the book was listed under fiction. My first thought on hearing this: "Oh no! Say it an't so, Joe!" But, not withstanding these considerations, it's still terrifically rewarding to read, as long as you realize not everything is precisely true.


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