While Schaeffer briefly chronicles young Pietro Bravado’s emigration to America, his struggles to survive and rear a family, and, just as briefly, his son George’s coming of age and marriage, the narration quickly centers upon Pete, George’s son, who feels a closer affinity to his grandfather and his values than to his father and his. Indeed, by the time Pete is a teenager, repeatedly breaking laws, his father has become intolerant of him and increasingly brutal. Having lost his grandfather and unwilling to endure the turmoil of living with his father any longer, Pete enlists in the army and plunges into the amoral madness of battle in Vietnam, a madness he learns to know “better than he knew the street on which he had lived for seventeen years.”
Pete’s knowledge of the dark, bestial side of himself is without a context when he returns home, attempts to lead a “normal” life, marries and fathers children. Seething with an unfocused rage which frightens and disturbs him, suffering others’ disdain for him as a veteran, Pete is inexorably driven into debilitating isolation. He loses his wife and children--loses his hold upon everything but the life-affirming need to re-create himself as a survivor in a world in which his grandfather’s beliefs and values are insufficient guides.
BUFFALO AFTERNOON is an immensely engaging story, its narrative filled with a wealth of details which make it seem both an authentic testament to an American tragedy and a painfully intimate encounter with men such as Pete, for whom, as he says, the “past’s a minefield, man.”