Published in 1989, it will take almost 9 years to have this book published in France and almost twenty years to be published again, by Gallmeister. Larry Brown, who died from a heart attack in 2004 has never known the new success of his books, whether through their new editions or through their movies adaptations, as in Joe.
Mississippi – VA Hospital. Walter James lies in a bed at the hospital. When he wakes up, he sees in the adjacent bed another man – Braiden Chaney. He has no legs and no arms. Walter has still his four limbs but his face is gone. Both fought in Vietnam and were gravely wounded. Now, twenty two years later, they lie in adjacent beds.
Walter, a young white boy has come back home faceless. He’s spent his days locked up in his bedroom, in his Mom’s home where he lives with his younger brother. Years have gone by. Walter goes back often to the hospital, he still has convulsions and he passes out a lot. He’s depressed and drowns his sadness in meds and alcohol. His only lobby is to read. He only goes out a night. One night, he goes to the drugstore and meets the new cashier, a pretty young woman. Despite her surprise, she gives him her phone number.
Braiden knows all that because as soon as Walter is awake, the man talks. A lot. And Braiden listens this guy telling him about his childhood, a poor white kid growing up on farm, picking up cotton. And of course he talks about this girl. Walter doesn’t have any memory on his arrival at the hospital. He hopes that his Mom and brother will come pick him up really fast. Walter learns that Braiden has never left the hospital in twenty-too years. But during the night, he’s seen a young black woman coming to visit Braiden. Walt has listened carefully.
Over the course of a day and a night, the two men will confide in each other, talk of memories, of their tours in Vietnam, of the life they had dreamed about and the real one. Walter and Braiden are going to let their guard down and paint a cold and scary picture of the war and its perverse effects. Locked up in their own bodies, or in their childhood home, the two Vets have watched their best years go by.
Unable to communicate with the outside world, and even their families, they will, during that short period of time, find a listener and will be able to pour their suffering out and show compassion and even talk about their suicidal thoughts.
A powerful and dark book, though Larry Brown, knew already (it was his first novel) how to let the sunshine goes through the clouds. I was very moved by the character of Walter, his loneliness, and his sudden hope with this love story. But be careful, reader, Larry Brown’s books are noir, very noir. And the ending won’t let you unmoved. But, man, it’s so darn beautiful !