Review of Marc Levy’s Book HOW STEVIE NEARLY LOST THE WAR AND OTHER POST WAR STORIES
2017 Marc Levy Book Review
By Doug Rawlings
Marc Levy’s collection of “postwar stories” entitled HOW STEVIE NEARLY LOST THE WAR (Winter Street Press, 2016) puts the reader on a rough road that is well worth traveling. One might ask what is in the air nowadays. Why these stories, poems, documentaries, novels about the American War in Vietnam? A simple answer is that we are now entering a series of fifty year commemorations of the war and people like Marc Levy, who served as a medic with the First Cav in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970, are feeling the urge to get the real narratives out there.
Levy got me with his first sentence –“Anyone can say they were in Vietnam.” Ain’t that the truth. Beware the teller of tales replete with bone-chilling bloody details of hand-to-hand combat and amazing life-saving heroics. Beware the calm narrator who can string out seamless cause and effect scenarios of life in the bush. Beware the wannabe fed on Rambo movies and other Hollywood concoctions. So was Levy “in” Vietnam? You bet he was. A Silver Star, two Bronzes, and a couple of other medals can attest to that. But, more importantly, it’s Levy’s bouts of surrealistic prose/poetry, black, black humor, and scintillating “minor” details that speak to me of his trustworthiness.
You really want to know what nam was all about? Read this collection.I have to say that over the years I have come to believe that it is the medic, the wartime doctor, who really holds the keys to that tale of woe and brutality and butchery called the Vietnam War. Think of Doug Anderson, Doug Peacock, Peggy Akers, Mike Hastie, Mark Foreman, Mike Ferner, and now Marc Levy. What is it with them? That they carried their hearts and souls into battle? That some of them crawled into firefights, looking for the wounded, rather than try to burrow into the ground like most of us did? That after years of living in despair they can somehow pull dark memories into the light because they were there to save lives rather than take them? I don’t know. But I do know that when I talk to young people, and they ask about “my war,” I steer them in the direction of the medics I know and have read.
What I especially like about Levy’s work is his sardonic voice that, paradoxically, draws you nearer to him rather than distancing you from him. When you read of his exploits during and after the war, you get the impression that he has spent a good part of his life trying to keep everybody out of his mind, his soul, his heart. He’s rough and tumble. He travels as a solitary lost soul drawn into jungles and danger, for what? Try applying PTSD or moral injury theories to explain that. Or don’t bother. Accept what he has given us here. Realize that Levy himself has failed to accomplish his goal of keeping others out of his life by the very fact that he has written personal universal truths into these essays/stories/accounts ( I pay his work the ultimate compliment that I pay Tim O’Brien’s THINGS THAT THEY CARRIED– the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, and that, my friends, is exactly what Vietnam was like).
It took me a while to finish this book. Sure, it called me back to places I don’t like to go; sure, I have a life, you know, and can’t just sit there by the fire drilling down into muck and mire; all true. But, but, what made this reading experience disjointed and tough to manage were the diverse styles that Levy employs from a Gerard Manley Hopkins type of poetry/prose in his brilliant title piece “How Stevie Nearly Lost the War” to his matter-of-fact reportage of sexual encounters. Is he a story teller or a journalist? In the end, it matters not. What made his collection tough to read was exactly what kept me coming back to it. Who is this guy? How did he creep into my soul? What’s he going to tell me next?
So, if you, like me, keep on asking what brings us to these narratives from five decades ago, from a time that we really would like to forget, then ask yourself:”why read of wars long past like THE ILIAD? Why read Ambrose Bierce, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Randall Jarrell, and James Dickey?” Answer: to engage with truth-tellers who can lead us to a place of reconciliation, or, if not that, to give us a voice for the young when we are tongue-tied. War is totally, totally fucked up. It seduces you, warps your soul, spits you out into the street, and walks away with a sneer. Don’t believe me? Then read Marc Levy’s HOW STEVIE NEARLY LOST THE WAR AND OTHER POSTWAR STORIES. Then get back to me.
Veterans For Peace