For those of us who came of age in the aftermath of September 11 and the wars that followed, a new book "River City One" by first-time author John Waters provides a reprieve from glamorized, military-style leadership guides like "Extreme Ownership" or "Make Your Bed," or adrenaline-filled memoirs like Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's "American Sniper."
This is a penetration into the mind of a veteran returned to the world that we share with him.
A Naval Academy graduate and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Waters is now an attorney in Omaha, his hometown. "River City One" is a novel, not a memoir, albeit a palpably autobiographical account. (In the interest of disclosure, after leaving military service as a U.S. Marine Corps captain, Waters was co-editor of RealClearDefense; Carl Cannon, executive editor of RealClearMedia, wrote the foreword to this book).
The story's protagonist, war hero John Walker, shares with the reader an inner dialogue influenced by his drug-like withdrawal from the adrenaline and purpose of battle into the mundaneness of everyday life. He is an imperfect protagonist. Walker shares more with the self-doubting characters found in the novels from Lost Generation authors than the depictions of modern war heroes likely to be adapted by Hollywood.
In Walker, we are introduced to a character who, like Ford Madox Ford's character Christopher Tietjens in "Parade's End," is not immediately likable and somewhat aloof. Unlike Tietjens, Walker doesn't inform us of his life philosophy. Instead, we know only of his opinions through his critique of others. Clients, colleagues, fellow veterans, and family are not spared. He regularly dismisses the accomplishments of others as having little meaning. He thinks of civilians who want to ask him questions about his service as "turned on" by war stories. He asserts that his family occupies a separate world apart from him, as if he is unimportant to their well-being. We come to understand that his opinions are partial truths, informed by shame, used to justify his avoidance of family intimacy.