365 Days Critical Context - Essay

Ronald Glasser

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In commenting on “Brock,” one early critic of Vietnam War literature observed that this piece demonstratesthe unique serviceability of the shorter fictional modes in coming to terms with the sense of episodic randomness and strange fragmentation that so often seemed to characterize one’s vision of the actual experience of the war.

Yet “Brock,” which is not—strictly speaking—“fictional,” does more than this in the context of the book as a whole, for it is here that the central themes coalesce most clearly. What appears in this story is reinforced, or repeated with variation, in other sketches in the narrative. Rather than being seventeen discrete sketches, 365 Days displays, in its concern for social, medical, and military issues, a thematic unity that emphasizes the encompassing nature of the Vietnam War experience. In this it bears a remarkable likeness to Walt Whitman’s meditations on the Civil War, Specimen Days and Collect (1882-1883), and Ernest Hemingway’s tales of World War I, In Our Time (1924).

Despite the artistry of this nonfiction narrative, however, it has not escaped social criticism. Ostensibly for its liberal use of obscenities, the narrative was banned in 1981 from a high school library in Baileyville, Maine. Reaching a federal district court in Bangor in December, 1981, the controversy received some press coverage and eventual notoriety. Indeed, the library had housed only...

(The entire section is 479 words.)