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Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Naked and the Dead

It was somewhat odd timing that I watched Platoon so soon after reading Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.  Both of these works tried to portray the experience of soldiers in a single platoon on the front lines of a war.  While Platoon focused on the Vietnam War, The Naked and the Dead takes place on a fictional island in the South Pacific during World War II.  It has been described as semi-autobiographical since it largely came from Mailer's service on a reconnaissance platoon.

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The novel uses perspectives from a variety of soldiers, from the lowest private to the general in charge of the campaign.  While the writing is generally fairly traditional, most of the chapters end with special sections that are decidedly not.  All of these interludes provide the reader with insight into the lives led by the soldiers before the joining the Army.  Some are called Time Machines, which are written in a stream of consciousness format.  Others are called Choruses and are presented like the script of a play.  I would not be a fan of either style if they were used for the entire novel but in short doses they provide a nice variety.

I have seen this novel (and Platoon) described as anti-war.  It's hard for me to see how any work that portrays a war on the ground in anything approaching a true light could be considered anything else.  War is awful.  Whatever justifications may exist, pretending that war isn't terrible is ridiculous.  I don't have the life experience to make this statement with any authority, but this story really rang true to me.  As such, it is really depressing.  But I'd still recommend it.  I certainly liked it better than the other classic war books I've read, like Catch-22 and Gravity's Rainbow.

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