Larry Heinemann Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beidler, Philip D. Re-Writing America: Vietnam Authors in Their Generation. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. Identifies Paco’s Story as expressing part of American mythic consciousness.

Cronin, Cornelius A. “Historical Background to Larry Heinemann’s Close Quarters.” Critique 24, no. 2 (1983): 119-130. Describes the actual military training background to Heinemann’s novel and compares it to its fiction representation.

Greiff, Louis K. “In the Name of the Brother: Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story and Male America.” Critique 41, no. 4 (2000): 381-389. Discusses Heinemann’s use of names and naming as a way of exploring issues of brotherhood.

Jeffords, Susan. “Tattoos, Scars, Diaries, and Writing Masculinity.” In The Vietnam War and American Culture, edited by John Carlos Rowe and Rick Berg. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Jeffords finds a sinister pattern in which masculine suffering seeks retribution and relief in the raping of women. The polarization of women and victims turns women into oppressors. Jeffords makes fascinating connections among the various images of scars, tattoos, and other inscriptions.

Morris, Gregory L. “Telling War Stories: Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story and the Serio-Comic Tradition.” Critique 36, no. 1 (1994): 58-68. Discusses the use of voice in Heinemann’s novel.

Scott, Grant F. “Paco’s Story and the Ethics of Violence.” Critique 36, no. 1 (1994): 69-80. Argues that Heinemann so constructs Paco’s Story that readers must confront the war directly.