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Buffalo Soldiers Paperback – March 15, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
Once again, a first novelist inveigles the reader's empathy for a swaggering substance abuser by using direct address in the second person. But while Bright Lights, Big City jammed its hero's addiction up the nose of a greedy decade, this book can make no such zeitgeisty claims for its cocksure central character--Army Specialist Ray Elwood, based in present-day Germany. Elwood has brokered his genius for writing never-fail requisition memos into a profitable operation, specializing in skag and elaborate favor-banking. When a new sergeant threatens his system, Elwood tries for one final payday. Despite the annoying and intrusive familiarity of the formal device ("You want to get off, and two men in your squad need to shoot up. Here's how you do it . . . "), the novel remains highly readable; O'Connor writes bitter, funny prose and creates bureaucratic snafus of the first order. Alternating scenes of Army idiocy and clinically realistic drug addiction are far more compelling than O'Connor's attempt to attribute his hero's bracing nihilism to his tragic past. Toward its end the book falters, as Elwood flirts with maudlin self-pity. But O'Connor misfires now and then only because he aims high; aided by his infectious gift for sneering and his sharp eye for institutionalized depravity, he marks most of his targets with tight clusters around the bull's-eye.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"An M-1 tank of a novel, fast and powerful and dangerous...way nasty and blindingly funny." —Jay McInerney
"This book may well find a place on the shelf with Joseph Heller's Catch-22.... It takes a fine novelist to tell such a sordid story so beautifully—and a brave one to hold out no hope for redemption but the jolting effect of a cold-eyed look at the truth." —The New York Times Book Review
"Buffalo Soldiers rips a story of survival from the fearsome realm of the modern Army's barracks, trenches, and gutters. Military jargon becomes in-you-face narrative, punctuated by extremes of horror and humor.... This book is about now, and its present-tense urgency never flags." —Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
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Top Customer Reviews
Free fall. That's where Spec-4 Ray Elwood is headed, and in his less and less frequent MPC's (moments of perfect clarity) he knows it. The rest of the time, he's taking steps to get his stake and get out before the inevitable collision with the ground. He leads a sordid life, using people, dealing hard drugs on the side, flirting with heroin addiction. Yet there is something in him, some remnant of decency, the idea that he could easily change and turn himself around - and when he meets the daughter of his most dangerous enemy and they begin a relationship, we cross our fingers and hope he makes it through.
Comparisons between Buffalo Soldiers and Joseph Heller's classic World War II novel Catch-22 are inevitable, but there really can be no comparison. O'Connor's standoffish second person narrative attempts to hold you at arm's length, but his passages slash away with such cutting, acidic wit, the story gets in close anyway. Beside the peacetime lowlifes of Buffalo Soldiers, Joseph Heller's characters were mere babes-in-arms. In Catch-22, you never quite had to take things seriously. With O'Connor, it's impossible not to, and thus Buffalo Soldiers is ultimately more meaningful. I never thought I'd say this, but Joseph Heller, who I've long revered, no longer stands alone at the top.
Art Tirrell - author of The Secret Ever Keeps ISBN 978-1-60164-004-8 Mar 2007 Kunati Books
Buffalo Soldiers follows peacetime soldiers stationed in Mannheim Germany, where corruption runs wilder than the mayoral office in Chicago. Drugs and smuggling runs freely as the soldiers are bored to tears.
Yeah, not the time for such a narrative.
To make matters worse, the author attempts to utilize a rarely-used form of narration called second-person, where the author calls a certain character "you," like "you are stationed in Germany, you are buying drugs, you are hitting yourself... why are you doing that?" It just doesn't quite work for me unless it's a choose-your-own adventure (A: You buy the drugs or B: You kill the buyer, then take his drugs or C: You do the chicken dance, run around in circles, confuse the buyer, than buy his drugs). It just makes the whole reading experience unbelievable with no way to truly relate to anything or anyone in the book.
All in all, Buffalo Soldiers is a wrong-place-wrong-time book that isn't even written that well. I'd shelve it for some better books.
It's written in the second person. You like the second person; you think it's very underused. It helps you identify with the protagonist, and it reminds you of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you read a kid. Only in this adventure, all the options are bad--you get glimpses of a peaceful pleasant world, but you are drawn steadily away from it. And there is no way to get to a different ending.
How could it be otherwise, though? You are living life through the eyes of a soldier stationed in Germany who's dealing heroin to the arms of America and chasing after the First Sergeant's daughter. Such situations never end well, except in the ego-fevered imagination of the addict. Still, even though you know this will most likely end poorly, you feel the need to follow the protagonist's steady slide deeper and deeper into his self-made hell.
Occasionally you are distracted by the world the author has created. That world does not always feel honest. Or rather, the drug parts feel incredibly honest, and the army parts feel like a Hollywood version of honesty--the characters describe cooking and shooting heroin in a way that shows they know and love the craft, but their descriptions of army excercises feel cartoonish and overblown compared with the finely detailed grit of the junkie's life. And the book seems to be set in the late 80s, but the army it describes more resembles the army of the mid-70s, when heroin ran rampant.
But you end up really liking this book, in spite of these reservations. Realistic and multidimensional characters are always more interesting than the occasionally phony scenery behind them. They don't do likeable things, but they are honest, and that makes them likeable in spite of themselves. In fact, you start liking them almost as much as they dislike themselves. What more can you ask for?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found Elwood's story uneventful and lacking a measure of believability.Read more
(as in: You are reading a book, you are walking down the street, you are...Read more