U.S. Army paratroopers, armed with guns, drug habits, and a unique sense of patriotism, ramble on about their enlistment in I Don't Know but I've Been Told. First-time novelist Raul Correa gives us a nameless protagonist who wistfully recounts how decades earlier he was part of an invincible band of wild, peacetime soldiers, affectionately called "Recon Dogs." Bored with the routine of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Recon Dogs (with suspiciously little thought) take over the second job of their beloved "Platoon Daddy" providing "surplus" weapons to the friendly local arms smuggler--before a stint in Panama gives the narrator his first and only love, Paola. Back stateside, a night of drinking helps the narrator see logic in tossing a grenade under a car, summarily replacing his high-flying times with a prison sentence. Now working on tugboats in New York harbor, our hollow man reveres two talismans: Paola's only letter and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The good times, for him, stopped long ago. Correa writes with all the macho swagger of his narrator's fun-loving, carefree past, turning in a memorable debut. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
Swaggering yet vulnerable, like a cross between Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield, the unnamed narrator of this gritty, darkly comic debut novel joins the army at the tail end of the 1970s. Like his pals, a bunch of misfit "doper scouts," he joins to escape grinding poverty, prison, or both. Their Fort Bragg scout platoon stands in stark antithesis to the gung-ho, overachieving Special Forces teams in training. Under the loose eye of their "Platoon Daddy" the only soldier in the group with real combat experience, the mystique of which maintains his rein over his unruly charges the Recon Dogs, as they are known, enliven their days of peacetime idleness and easy drills by getting stoned as often as possible, burning their paychecks, selling plasma, even burglarizing motels to fund their binges. This leads to trouble when the Dogs are offered cash by a local "entrepreneur" looking to stockpile military ordnance. The story is told in flashbacks by the narrator, 15 years later, following a breakdown and prison sentence. What is ostensibly a story of a young man too sensitive for military life is muddled with its narrator's self-styled comparison with Huckleberry Finn, his mooning over his lost love (a Panamanian prostitute) and his complete inability to come to terms with his situation. What the novel does offer is a frank, often comical look at life in America's peacetime volunteer army; as such, it joins the ranks of stories of military screwups from time immemorial although few of those offer detailed descriptions of parachute jumps on mescaline. (Apr. 4)Forecast: Correa, who spent time in the 82nd Airborne Division, has a real-life story to rival the fictional one he tells. He will embark on a five-city author tour and should be an appealing interview prospect.
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