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Dirty Work by Larry Brown

Dirty Work (original 1989; edition 2007)

by Larry Brown

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258644,311 (4.08)8
Title:Dirty Work
Authors:Larry Brown
Info:Algonquin Books (2007), Paperback, 247 pages
Collections:Your library

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Dirty work by Larry Brown (1989)


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Showing 5 of 5
Dirty Work is the story of two forgotten Vietnam veterans who meet in a VA hospital and embark on a brief friendship that changes both of their lives forever. Braiden lost both arms and both legs in the war and has been a hospital resident for twenty years. He (understandably) harbors a death wish and spends his days alternately watching television and fantasizing about an imagined life in Africa where he is an important tribal leader. Walter, suffering from severe facial deformity and debilitating seizures, just arrived and is trying to piece together the series of events that landed him in the hospital. The chapters alternate between the two main characters’ perspectives as they discuss the horrors of war, formative events in their childhoods, and their present-day lives.

Aside from race (Braiden is black and Walter is white), both characters share similar backgrounds. Both started life as poor boys from Mississippi and joined the armed forces, partly due to a sense of duty, but also knowing the inevitability of being drafted. Both were catastrophically wounded in battle at very young ages and have spent the years since as isolated and forgotten outcasts in their communities. They were full of potential before the war and are now shells of their former selves because of it. By hitting us over the head with their similarities, the author appears to be promoting the idea that class plays a much bigger role than race in determining one's range of opportunity and place in society, a position that always seems a little naïve and oversimplified to me. I could not help thinking that Braiden’s childhood in 1950s Mississippi was far more challenging than Walter’s as a result of racism, but this was not explored. My only other complaint is that the characterization of Braiden felt a little thin compared to that of Walter, and I felt like the focus on his fantasy life was a cop-out, rather than as a way to really develop Braiden as a character. Others may disagree. Aside from that, this is a powerful and moving anti-war novel that effectively explores the futility of war and the strong bond of common experience. Very good and recommended. ( )
  DorsVenabili | Aug 17, 2013 |
highly compelling vietnam lit. ( )
  julierh | Apr 7, 2013 |
Difficult to find words to express how much this short novel moved me...

Larry Brown has a way with his writing that takes you right under the skin of his characters. They are so vivid and believable. Dirty Work's two main protagonists are both physically and mentally scarred Vietnam veterans who share adjoining beds in a VA hospital 22 years after their war. Both Mississippians, limbless Braiden is black and faceless Walter is white. Both are from poor and troubled backgrounds. They find rare solace in their ability to confide in each other, something that their lives have usually been barred from.

The book is entirely written in the first person with short, punchy, and more or less alternate chapters in the voice of each man - something that I very quickly adjusted to after a tricky opening dozen or so pages... This book is very powerful and deeply affecting, and I'm pretty sure I will return to it again. The subject it addresses is as relevant today as it ever was -
"I know where you been, man. I've decided it's all the same. it's just the places and the reasons that change. Or maybe just the enemy. Hell. Let's open us another beer." ( )
  Polaris- | Jan 26, 2011 |
A modern day masterpiece. Think Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and you'd be in the ballpark.
I believe this and Joe are Brown's greatest novels. This hooked me for life. ( )
  JRoulette | Jul 14, 2010 |
This is one of those books that I use to size up other people. If you've read Dirty Work and you didn't love it, I don't want to know you. This was the first Larry Brown book that I ever read and, after re-reading it, it is still as powerful and haunting the second time around.

The novel focuses on two Vietnam veterans in the VA hospital two decades after the war has ended. Braiden, a black quadraplegic, has spent this entire time in the hospital and his imagination is his only means of escape. When Walter arrives under mysterious circumstances, Braiden thinks he's found his salvation. Walter's face was horribly mutilated and shell fragments lodged in his brain cause him to have uncontrollable "blackouts" from which he awakens with no memory. As these two men talk about their lives as they were and as they are and as they revisit the painful landscape of Vietnam, Brown reveals how the war took much more from them than their bodies. The damage is emotional, spiritual, and mental (as Braiden says at one point, "It do something to you to kill another person. It ain't no dog lying there. Somebody. A person, talk like you, eat like you, got a mind like you. Got a soul like you . . . You look in somebody's eyes, then kill him, you remember them eyes. You remember that you was the last thing he seen.") The novel also reflects how it was the poor and, in particular, the black soldiers who were asked to give the most and expect nothing in return--not even valid reasons for fighting.

Brown's writing is simple, direct, and often bitingly funny when you least expect it. He knew how to capture the cadences and culture of working class Americans always one paycheck away from the brink of poverty and he always did so with the utmost respect, never denigrating or lessening their value to American society. When Brown died, we lost one of the finest writers of the American South and this novel is a testament to his gifts. ( )
2 vote snat | Apr 5, 2010 |
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For Daddy, who knew what war does to men.
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This the trip I took that day, day they brought Walter in.
I know where you been, man. I've decided it's all the same. it's just the places and the reasons that change. Or maybe just the enemy. Hell. Let's open us another beer.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0945575203, Hardcover)

"A novel of the first order...gripping and virtually seamless....The writing, the characters, and the plot are so compelling that you can't help but stay with the book until its conclusion."--Washington Post Book World

"One sure way to deromanticize tomcat is to show its long-term effects. That's what Larry Brown does in this fine...first novel."--Newsweek

"Brown probes the hard luck of the down and out, the grim realities at the bottom of the scrap....His prose has a dark, horrific urgency. ...a real knockout."--Newsday

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:05 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Dirty Work is the story of two men, strangersone white, the other black. Both were born and raised in Mississippi. Both fought in Vietnam. Both were gravely wounded. Now, twenty-two years later, the two men lie in adjacent beds in a VA hospital.Over the course of a day and a night, Walter James and Braiden Chaney talk of memories, of passions, of fate. With great vision, humor, and courage, Brown writes mostly about love in a story about the waste of war.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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