Life During Wartime Essay - Critical Essays

Lucius Shepard


This remarkable and powerful novel is, in one sense, an obvious response to Vietnam. It tells of Americans trapped in a meaningless foreign war, fighting in dense jungle, with the men turning to drugs both for recreation and for fighting spirit. It is more than that, however, for it sets up a dichotomy between two ways of seeing the world. Lucius Shepard explains it succinctly early in the novel when he talks of the Central American people “trapped between the poles of magic and reason, their lives governed by the politics of the ultrareal, their spirits ruled by myths and legends, with the rectangular, computerized bulk of North America above and the conch-shell-shaped continental mystery of South America below.”

This conflict is graphically represented in the novel by a clash of genres. Science fiction is represented by the technology of war: Helicopter pilots encase their heads in high-tech helmets that, they believe, confer invincibility and almost godlike omniscience; and soldiers on leave indulge in drug-induced gladiatorial combats. Against this is ranged Magical Realism: Mingolla’s assailant is killed by a horde of butterflies, and the war between the Madradonas and the Sotomayors first appears as an episode in a work of fiction. The focus of the novel turns gradually, the earlier sections being more science-fictional and the latter more Magical Realism, but the clash of cultures is always there. It is perhaps at its most vivid in the...

(The entire section is 524 words.)