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Robert Zeitler: 'War Story' Novel Explores Man's Fascination With War

Robert Zeitler: 'War Story' Novel Explores Man's Fascination With War

By    |   Monday, 22 April 2019 04:30 PM

Why is man fascinated by war? This question is at the center of David Richardson’s new novel, "War Story."

A fascinating tale laced with booze, art, cigars, brutality — and God. Reading the novel, one sniffs the stench of the art world and tastes combat in the way only a veteran of those two worlds telling it in the first person can make you do.

The first half of "War Story" is split between Washington, D.C., and Iraq sometime during the early days of the Iraq War.

In D.C., a hard-drinking Marine Major, Clay Steerforth, haunts the streets of Georgetown seeking payment for art he has sold through a crooked dealer, all the while suffering the fate of a professional soldier left behind as a war rages elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Colonel Abdul Mujeed of the Iraq army watches his unit be destroyed by invading Coalition forces. Eventually, Steerforth and Mujeed meet, become friends and aid each other in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, two phoenixes rising from the ashes.

As a story teller, Richardson is the master at weaving plot, characters, disparate ideas, and past literary standouts together.

As the storyline unfolds, so does the well thought out connection between modern art and warfare, a storyline weaved so carefully, a single word or phrase ill thought through or out of place could have thrown it off. Nobody else could do this but Richardson; indeed, he does this with ease, since by his own admission, "War Story" is 80 percent autobiographical, and he is a painter, combat decorated veteran, and now novelist.

But there is more. If you’re a fan of literary references, "War Story" is for you. As odd as it may sound for a book titled as it is, there are glimpses of Mark Twain’s King and Duke from "Huck Finn" in Richardson’s character The Kount, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Dr. Eckelberg sign from "The Great Gatsby" in the imagery of the muscle man sign from Richardson’s work, and, more aptly, Crane’s Lieutenant Lean from "The Upturned Face" in Richardson’s protagonist gazing at a fresh corpse.

Richardson avoids the pitfall of common novelists by never mentioning the politics of the Iraq War. Nor does he succumb to the Rainey Day Regiment’s predilection for cliché of the PTSD-addled veterans or the foolhardy adventure who eventually repents the sins of going to war for his country. "War Story" is no mea culpa, rather it is a tour de force of a man’s desire to achieve a destiny by taking on the responsibility of leading men in combat and achieving the mission he accepted.

But why is man fascinated by war? A former professor of military history, Richardson wisely doesn’t pose the question, why does man go to war or, why is war so horrible? However, Richardson does deftly answer this central thematic question for himself as he ties his novel up very neatly — in what could be described as a Dickensian manner. And, his answer is convincing. Yet, it’s best left to the reader to determine if the pages of "War Story" answer it for them.

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Why is man fascinated by war? This question is at the center of David Richardson’s new novel, "War Story."
war story, novel, david richardson, review
Monday, 22 April 2019 04:30 PM
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