C(ourtlandt) D(ixon) B(arnes) Bryan Amanda Heller - Essay

Amanda Heller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

C.D.B. Bryan … was attracted by the journalistic possibilities in the Mullens' story—the radicalizing of the Silent Majority, so he thought. He soon found himself recording [in Friendly Fire] not the neat political morality play he thought he had discovered but a frantic and unsettling psychodrama. He does not conceal his frustration that his antiwar paragons turned out to be grieving human beings with an increasingly shaky hold on reality.

The Mullens' obsession is not a pretty one, and Bryan does little to soften it in this overstuffed, melodramatic account, full of unlikely third-person omniscience. But Peg and Gene Mullen were casualties of the Vietnam War as surely as their son was.

Bryan is satisfied that the official version of what happened to Charlie Company on the night of February 18, 1970, is complete, that Michael Mullen died, as reported, in a regrettable military accident. Perhaps Peg and Gene Mullen have come to accept it too. But how Michael died was never the Mullens' real question, though they exhausted themselves trying to find an answer. Their real question was why Michael died. There is no simple answer to that one, as the Mullens and the rest of us have discovered to our lasting regret.

Amanda Heller, in a review of "Friendly Fire" (copyright © 1976 by Amanda Heller; reprinted by permission of The Atlantic Monthly Company), in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 238, No. 1, July, 1976, p. 93.