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Fatal Light

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The story begins with a grandfather’s picture album and a young lad who listened to all the yarns, and who fell in love with Mary Meade at Bippo’s Pizzeria in Ocean City, Maryland. At nineteen he is sent to Vietnam.

In dozens of vignettes, sometimes no more than a paragraph long, Richard Currey takes the reader with the boy and documents a world by its changing light. First light over the Pacific Ocean is transcendental, mythological, but the unnamed narrator, sent out as a medic, finds the sun a thief. In the sometimes gray illumination of morning, even in the brilliant light that penetrates the jungle fog, the sun is stealing time. Life becomes disjointed, merely a commodity.

Currey’s first novel is a verbal photo album, a poetic documentary of the loss of all things. Unable to explain why he did not flee the draft, the narrator tries to grasp a vague sense of duty but is reduced to silent rage at the cruelty he sees around him. In malarial dreams, he tries to grasp something that lasts, but the air is empty. The fatal light of the jungle has brought the lie to any kind of possession.

The narrator returns home to his grandfather, to his house near the Ohio river, two old men examining the photographs of war. The medic wants everything to go away--but then he remembers a jungle march, where, afraid to stop or go on, one nevertheless continues.

The novel avoids sentimentality and forces the reader to gaze at the brutality of war, but also to witness the first stirrings of what life must be for one whose skin has been seared by that fatal light.