Rude Remarks

Sergeant Samuel Finlay: Shot and Not Heard

August 14, 2014

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Finlay doesn”€™t lay all the blame on the public or the powers that be, however: “€œThe unpopularity of the genre may partly be the fault of us writers,”€ he told me. “€œOurs is an eggheaded age, yet somehow also utterly vapid; we can get so focused on the tactical, technical aspect of the story that we lose the humanity of it all. … Homer doesn’t bore us with the intricacies of Bronze Age tactics and operating procedures.”€ And some poet-soldiers manage to come out of battle still too precious and writerly to stay off their own toes.

Granted, Finlay may also lose points with publishers and agents due to the flagrant non-PC nature of his writing. His soldiers indulge in vaudeville ethnic hijinks wherein nobody is sacred. He writes:

Walton watched his platoon laugh and tease each other with the openness reserved for siblings. He could not imagine such camaraderie and freedom of discourse among as disparate a group in the civilian world. The PC Thought Police would have denounced them on national TV for “€œhate speech”€ and then tossed them in the gulag until someone apologized and kissed the ring of whatever community had been offended. … Walton thought about his ETS date with bitter sweetness. He was going to miss these fuckers.

Nor does Finlay go easy on the whorish civilian girls who scam drinks out of off-duty personnel. He says that framing military stories from a left-wing perspective”€”as the works that got ink in the New Yorker seem to do”€””€œmay be the price you have to pay to get some daylight with the bougies”€”who I suspect still have a Baby Boomer center of gravity. Give “€™em a whiff of gunpowder, but don”€™t push too far and have people think you”€™re an evil right-wing asshole.”€

Granted, he could have used some help from a good editor”€”which is exactly what authors who do get picked up by major publishers benefit from before they go to press. This highlights a weakness of the self-publishing “€œrevolution”€: An editor is the literary equivalent of a makeup artist. Those who must go it alone go naked, snowballing their disadvantage. In Finlay’s case, a civilian editor could have warned him when the jargon and acronyms are getting confusing. He makes an effort to spell things out, but you still wish he”€™d re-up a reference once in a while.

The basic quality of the writing more than holds the book together, though. The sequence where he gets injured has at least five guaranteed laughs for anyone who’s ever been in medical shock, as the hero’s interior dialogue veers from staring mortality in the face, to wandering around a battlefield bleeding and inappropriately cracking wise, to getting his clothes cut off by a female medic: “€œHOLY SHIT! A FUCKING GIRL!”€

And Finlay’s inability to care anymore what the hell you think makes for a great overall strategy. I”€™ve never read a book about an “€œimportant”€ subject that came off as so un-self-important. He knows he’s got a good story, so he doesn”€™t bother trying to make it the greatest tale ever told. He trusts in his own sense of humor, and the interest inherent in honesty and confusion. The funny stuff and the deep thoughts roll out of that naturally.

For the entire interview with Finlay, read here.

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