SOFT SPOTS: A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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SOFT SPOTS: A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Clint Van Winkle, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2009, 213 pages, $14.99.

While some war memoirs resemble classical paintings filled with scenes of heroic triumphs, Clint Van Winkle's resembles a Dali surrealist landscape, blending reality, illusions, and nightmares. As an amphibious assault vehicle section leader, Sergeant Van Winkle served in Iraq in 2003 in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. Although he saw action at Nasiriyah, he does not take a strictly chronological approach to recounting the events. Instead, Van Winkle gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of a veteran wrestling with the meaning and affects of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) by blending the stories of combat with stories of return to civilian life. His memoir tells more of his experience of war than simply his experiences in war.

Making frequent use of literary flashback, Van Winkle's story twists and turns from the present to the past and back again, reflecting his personal struggles with the recurrent memories of war. He tells how certain sights or sounds in his post-war college days would suddenly throw his mind back into the war zone. Apprehensively intrigued by the unsettled nature and pattern of the narrative, the reader is drawn deeply into the stream of consciousness, unsure of whether or not Van Winkle is at home or in Iraq-in combat or in a nightmare. Thus, his memoirs become a literary taste of PTSD, a mental world where the dead and living coexist.

Throughout, Van Winkle turns his ire on people and organizations that only superficially support veterans. …