Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Based in part on Larry Heinemann’s experience in the Vietnam War, Paco’s Story tells a representative tale of the brutality of war and the subsequent problems of a veteran’s adjustment to life in small-town America. Heinemann presents this material through a narrative that focuses on Paco Sullivan’s arrival in, partial adjustment to, and departure from the typical American crossroads town of Boone, a river town in the American Midwest. This strand of the narrative is punctured by scenes of the massacre of Paco’s company at Fire Base Harriet, Paco’s rescue and recovery, and earlier war incidents in which Paco was involved.
The novel, however, begins not with Paco but with a virtuoso introduction by and to the unnamed narrator, whose hip but elegant manner provides much of the novel’s special flavor. The narrator insists that people do not want to hear another war story, and he is rather specific about just what they do not want to hear and why. Still, stories such as Paco’s must be heard, and the narrator, who has cornered a listener whom he addresses as James, must tell it. Readers soon learn that the narrator is the ghost of a soldier who served with Paco in Alpha Company and who lost his life with all the others at Fire Base Harriet.
Paco arrives at the outskirts of Boone by bus, washes up at the Texaco station, and begins a hobbled walk toward town. Befriended by the garage mechanic, he begins a search for work and...
(The entire section is 1157 words.)
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Paco's Story (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
When Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story was chosen over books by such established novelists as Toni Morrison and Philip Roth as the winner of the 1987 National Book Award for fiction, critics disagreed as to whether the book should be considered the finest novel of the Vietnam War or merely a moving work which stops short of greatness because the protagonist is never fully realized. Certainly the details of the day-by-day, night-by-night conflict ring true. As in his first novel, Close Quarters (1977), Heinemann draws upon his own experiences as a combat infantryman in Vietnam in order to bring home the realities of that war to civilians who would rather forget it.
Like an epic, Paco’s Story takes place simultaneously in three worlds: the hell of Vietnam, which Paco Sullivan tries to annihilate with whiskey, Librium, and Valium; the everyday earth, represented by the midwestern town of Boone, as selfish and petty as the Ithaca to which Odysseus returned; and the supernatural world, populated by the spirits of the ninety-two men of Paco’s company who were killed in a firefight of which he was the only survivor.
If Heinemann had spent two hundred pages recounting battlefield experiences in a war which he sees as butchery with no redeeming value, the book would have been so painful as to be unreadable. By alternating episodes in Vietnam with episodes in Boone, he not only makes the horrors of his hell bearable for...
(The entire section is 1554 words.)