Articles of War
Farm Boy Goes to Omaha
A review by Anna Godbersen
Heck (so called because of the lack of cuss words in his vocabulary) is an eighteen-year-old Iowan farm boy when he is drafted into the army and sent off to fight in World War II. He is also a bit of a sad sack, with his thinning hair, his virginity, and his loneliness. He is not transformed upon his arrival at Omaha Beach, and he remains perhaps too vague and dreamy a person to be confident of his abilities as a soldier. On a solitary walk one day, Heck encounters a hurt boy in a field, and his lack of courage there foreshadows his lack of courage on the battlefield. As Heck realizes later on, "War was a universe unto itself," and its rules do not come naturally to him. All his impulses to flee, cower and hide come to a climactic focus when he encounters a soldier soon to be shot for desertion.
Nick Arvin's debut novel Articles of War, relates Heck's story in bare-bones prose, and it is more concerned with posing questions about bravery and violence than creating a vivid depiction of scene. Arvin's writing does occasionally veer from the cool and collected to the more purple kind, as in this unfortunate description of heavy petting: He "reached down and brushed his fingers upon the root of the world." But at its existential best, Articles of War makes you wonder how you would handle yourself in a ditch, surrounded by snipers, and under orders to kill.
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