The writing of Larry Curtiss Heinemann (HI-nuh-muhn) is closely identified with the Vietnam War, as his two major works, Close Quarters and Paco’s Story, draw on his combat experience. Born and raised in Chicago, Heinemann, an average student in high school, went on to complete an A.A. degree from a two-year college. Unable to continue college, he was drafted into the Army and sent in 1967 to Vietnam, where he served in the infantry. During his tour he was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and promoted to sergeant.
Home from the war, he enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago on the G.I. Bill. One of the courses he took was creative writing, in which he started describing what he had undergone in combat. He did well enough as a student that he taught creative writing at Columbia College from 1971 until 1986, the year he published Paco’s Story. After a number of years working on Close Quarters, he completed it in 1977. Close Quarters is the story of Philip Dosier—presumably closely modeled on Heinemann himself—who serves in an armored cavalry unit. The novel is a gritty presentation of what the combat soldier in Vietnam, in an unlucky draw of duty, might encounter. The novel has little about the abstract issues of the war, though there are scenes that show what is happening “back home.”
At the heart of the story is the relationship among men at war, the close and necessary bond formed with those with whom one must trust one’s life. Such is the relationship that Dosier enjoys with Quinn, who teaches him that he must defy the absurdity that the military represents. It is the death of Quinn, killed after Dosier is safely home, that triggers his overwhelming agony and realization of senseless loss. Written as a first-person narrative, Close Quarters has immediacy and authenticity; the reader senses that only one who has “been there” could tell this story.
Heinemann’s second novel, Paco’s Story, won the National Book Award. The narrative covers...
(The entire section is 843 words.)