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Dirty Work (1989)

by Larry Brown

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338964,422 (4.12)10
Dirty Work is the story of two men, strangers--one 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)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This is the kind of novel that is, on its surface, fairly simple. There are two Vietnam vets, seriously injured during the war, who find themselves in adjacent beds in a VA hospital. One is black, the other white, and through the length of one night, they share their stories with one another. However, what is exposed in the telling of the stories are the hearts of two men, and the heart is never a simple thing, is it?

Larry Brown, with the precision of a surgeon, cuts to all the things that matter the most in life: our concept of who we are, our families and our loves, our longings and disappointments, our ability to handle the things in life that are unfair and unjust, and our desire to hang on or let go of the world we know. He wraps them up in the fabric of war, the senselessness, the fear, the consequences, and then he asks what makes us alike or different.

This book is so powerful, it makes you shake. There is so much to pity, so much courage on display, and so much wisdom, bought at too high a price. But what makes it work completely and irrefutably is its honesty. You could walk into any VA hospital in the country and listen to the men there, and you might find Walter and Braiden, you might overhear any part of this conversation, because the earning of a purple heart is indeed dirty work that scars its recipient for life.
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  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
I recently read two other books on the brutal impact of war on the individual soldier, Redeployment by Phil Klay and a reread of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Dirty Work came much closer than Redeployment to leaving me with the frustration and sense of inevitability that All Quiet on the Western Front produced on both reads. Dirty Work is the story of two Vietnam vets, one black and one white, who come together in a Vet medical facility 22 years after the war. Braiden Chaney, left with no arms or legs, and Larry, seriously disabled by shrapnel in his brain and damage to his face, struggle with limited life choices. Over two days, Braiden and Larry share their lives with one another. While I can not place Dirty Work at the same level as Brown’s Father and Son, it left me moved, wanting to look away but knowing that I must pay attention. I think Larry Brown deserves to be more widely read, and I encourage everyone to try him out. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
Pretty remarkable and impossible to do justice to in a short review. On the one hand, this book is the most extreme type of melodrama, and the two lead characters are a lot more intelligent and articulate than you would expect, but that lets Brown tell his harrowing story of memories, duty, fate, love, and death in a voice that never falters. And may never leave you. Perhaps not quite as well written as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried--but in its depiction of the toll of war on two men, even more effective. ( )
  datrappert | Sep 13, 2019 |
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 |
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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.
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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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Dirty Work is the story of two men, strangers--one 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.

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