R.I.P., Larry Heinemann

My old paperback copy of “Close Quarters” has taken a beating from reading and re-reading.

Goddamn, this is turning out to be an ugly day.

Larry Heinemann, who was the surprise winner of the National Book Award for fiction in 1987, died Dec. 11 in Texas. He was 75.

Heinemann won the award for “Paco’s Story,” but I read his 1977 novel “Close Quarters” first, and it is one of the best Vietnam War stories out there. Not a pretty story, but it was not a pretty war. None of them is. It was one of the books that made me glad I missed the party.

He did his year in an infantry battalion, then came home, went to school, and started writing.

“I was not one of those guys who got home and went to their room and shut up,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1988. “I know guys who the war’s been eating up for 20 years. Anybody who asked me about it, I told them. I shot my mouth off about everything — the whorehouses, the endless hatred, the ugliness, the real work of the war. It took two to three years of talking to get the story out.”

Heinemann got more of the story out later, in a memoir, “Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam.” His hometown paper wrote about it, and him, even including an excerpt.

Upon his return from Vietnam, he wrote:

I felt joyless and old, physically and spiritually exhausted, mean and grateful and uncommonly sad; relieved as if a stone had been lifted from my heart and radicalized beyond my own severely thinned patience: pissed off and ground down by a bottomless grief that I could not right then begin to express.

So, still sore and raw from the war I began writing.

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One Response to “R.I.P., Larry Heinemann”

  1. Pat O’Brien Says:

    I saw the mountain, Nui Ba Den, twice during the Cambodian Campaign in May of 1970 from the Tay Nihn combat base. They were short visits shuttling equipment back and forth. That area was a rough part of town for many years because it was close to the border with Cambodia as we were at Firebase Buttons.

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