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Book Review: ‘Three War Stories’ by David Mamet

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New book details the lives of war torn soldiers.

New book details the lives of war torn soldiers.

David Mamet’s latest book, Three War Stories, contains three novellas exploring the military service of several men. The stories are about servicemen from different centuries and different wars including one story from the American Indian wars.

The stories are titled, “The Redwing”, “Notes on Plain Warfare” and “The Handle and the Hold”. The first two stories are about aging soldiers while the reader will have difficulty determining the age of the two main characters in the last story.

“The Redwing”

The first story is about a 19th-century Secret Service naval officer. The officer is also a writer and the story includes the officer’s musings about a book he has written and who the characters in the book represent. The story details how the officer became a prisoner of war and some of the atrocities he endured and observed during his imprisonment. The story also details his life after his service time ended.

Mamet writes, “Physical torture is the most despicable and sinful exercise known to man. Further, it reveals, finally, only that which is already known: that men are cruel, and that we are all subject to pain, to withstand which every man has his given capacity beyond which he must, of course, break.”

The story starts with why the officer ended up going to sea, although he did not want to go. The sailor describes numerous activities that he participated while at sea including night watches. The story also describes acts of cannibalism.

“Human flesh tastes much like any animal flesh, all of which tastes very much alike. Blindfolded, most would be hard-pressed to differentiate between chicken and pork — try the experiment,” Mamet writes.

“Notes on Plain Warfare”

The second story starts with, “The two questions, they say, one gentleman should never ask another are “Do you know the time?” and “May I borrow your knife?””

The author goes on to suggest through the officer in the story that all men should have their own watch and their own knife. The main character in this story served in the American Indian wars.

Mamet writes, “It is not for nothing that the savage screams when attacking. For the scream, primordially, has the ability to shock the nervous system into momentary inanition.”

A few of the writings from this novella include thoughts on keeping the last bullet for yourself, that Christ cried out while under torture, honor, soldiers as philosophers and comparing Plains warfare to draw poker.

“The Handle and The Hold”

This novella is set during the month before the Israeli War of Independence. It is heavy with dialogue as Mamet tells the story of how two men, Nick and Sam, steal a plane “from the military side of the Tulsa Airport.”

The author tells readers at the beginning that Nick (Nicky) has retired from combat. The story is focused on the two characters flying the plane. It ends with one getting shot and killed while the other takes off in the plane, once again.

It is the shortest of the three stories but it is hard to read because of all of the dialogue. And, after reading it and going back through it a few times, I couldn’t determine the reason they took the plane or exactly what they intended to do with the plane.

Recommendations

Short stories often leave much of the detail out of the story. Part of the fun of reading short stories is that the reader ends up thinking about the story long after reading it to determine its intent or meaning. And, often readers of the same story come away with different interpretations.

While the writing is top-notch throughout this book, the stories themselves are a bit confusing because too many details are missing.

It’s hard to connect to the characters because some of the context surrounding the characters is missing. The author is a Pulitzer-Prize winner so I’m sure he includes what he felt the readers needed. I just couldn’t find what I needed to fully understand the meaning of each of the stories.

Although the stories are a work of fiction, the one thought I did take away from the book is how truly hard it must be to be a soldier. The cruelty, the tragedies witnessed while in combat and the incredible hardships service men and women must endure are all thoughts that do come across in each of the three stories.

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  • http://attackofthebooks.com/ Daniel Burton

    Interesting selection. Thanks for the review.

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