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Articles of War by Nick Arvin
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Articles of War

by Nick Arvin

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George Tilson leaves his Iowa home for Normandy as an eighteen-year-old recruit in World War II. Shy and unassuming, he keeps to himself and earns the nickname “Heck” because he doesn’t swear. He is muscled from summers of farm labor, and knows how to work long and hard without complaint. But combat is far more brutal than he imagined and fear consumes him.

This novella packs a big punch. The writing is at once reserved and intimately emotional. The reader witnesses the horrors of war along with Heck, who frequently seems removed from the battles due to his cautious nature. But his fear, terror, and horror are intensely felt, as is his shame at his perceived cowardice. The combat scenes capture perfectly the chaos and confusion of a major battle. The scenes at base camp capture the boredom and uncertainty of “waiting to be called,” and give the reader (and the combatants) a much-needed respite.

When I finished I was not sure I agreed with Heck’s self-assessment that he is a coward. I recognize that he is frightened to inaction at times, but that seems reasonable to me given the circumstances he finds himself in. I asked my husband (a combat infantry platoon leader in Vietnam) about this. His response is that it’s normal to be scared, but you have to face it. I think there are times when Heck definitely faces his fears and conducts himself well. But there are other incidents when he takes “the coward’s way out,” and those tend to be when he is alone and without someone to witness his cowardice. Internally, however, he is always looking to escape.

And that is what gives the ending such impact. Without giving anything away, I don’t see how he can escape that final scenario … and I’m not so sure he even wants to.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Nick Arvin's prose belies his involvement in the University of Iowa's writer's workshop, but the plot is less clich�� than the self-aware writing style. For me, that is; I don't read much war fiction. If the composition was careful, what he composed was remarkable. The protagonist's panic, horror, and ignorance in battle evoked a reaction similar to that of The Road. Not as universally horrifying, because (to someone who has never seen combat), World War II is a finite, self-contained, known quantity ��� unlike everything in the McCarthy.

This is for bookclub next week, and it's also the One City, One Book selection for Denver in 2008. It should be good for conversation.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
George "Heck" Tilson turns eighteen years old just in time to do a full turn of duty in WWII. This short novel is not the story of a hero, or even a patriot. It's the story of putting one foot in front of the other when all your instincts are telling to stop and run away. I thought the ending was a bit contrived (Heck's life becomes entwined with Pvt. Eddie Slovak's life), but until then, it was a good read. ( )
  DJRMel | Apr 3, 2013 |
Very difficult read.. Realistic descriptions of fighting, survival, courage .. Main character about18, from a farm in Midwest, totally naive ..any mother of sons would find this difficult. However every person that has any influence in sening young men to was should read this.. ( )
  SandraButzel | Jan 4, 2013 |
George "Heck" Tilson turns eighteen years old just in time to do a full turn of duty in WWII. This short novel is not the story of a hero, or even a patriot. It's the story of putting one foot in front of the other when all your instincts are telling to stop and run away. I thought the ending was a bit contrived (Heck's life becomes entwined with Pvt. Eddie Slovak's life), but until then, it was a good read. ( )
  DJRMel | Nov 11, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385512775, Hardcover)

Capturing the reality of war with a fidelity and power that echoes the best of classic war writing, this haunting novel brings to life the terrors of a young soldier in shocking, almost hallucinatory detail.

George Tilson is an eighteen-year-old Iowan farm boy who enlists in the army during World War II and is sent to Normandy shortly after D-Day. Nicknamed “Heck” because of his reluctance to curse, he is a typical soldier, willing to do his duty without fuss or much musing about grand goals. The night before he is trucked into the combat zone, Heck meets a young French refugee and her family, an encounter that unsettles him greatly.

It is during his first, horrific exposure to combat that Heck discovers a dark truth about himself: He is a coward. Shamed by his fears and tortured by the never-ending physical dangers around him, he struggles to survive, to live up to the ideal of the American fighting man, and to make sense of his feelings for the young French woman. As the stark reality of combat—the knowledge that he could cease to exist at any moment—presses in on him, Heck makes a series of choices that would be rational in every human situation except war.

With remorseless, hypnotic clarity, Arvin draws readers into the unimaginable fear, violence, and chaos of the war zone. Arvin layers profound meaning within a brilliantly executed minimalist style. His portrayal of the emotional and physical terrors Heck can neither understand nor escape is one of the most disturbing and unforgettable accounts of the life of a soldier ever written.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:00 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

During his exposure to combat, George "Heck" Tilson, an eighteen-year-old Iowa farm boy sent to Normandy just after D-Day, discovers that he is a coward and, tormented by the perils around him, struggles to survive the horrors of war.

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