Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien

Article excerpt

Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O'Brien, by Alex Vernon. Iowa, June 2004. $39.95

This is a scholarly, ambitious, comparative study of the prose of three veterans who experienced wars that nearly spanned the twentieth century. Hemingway drove an ambulance in WWI; Salter flew a fighter plane in the Korean War; and O'Brien carried a rifle in Vietnam. Vernon uses the oeuvre of Hemingway as a reference point for what is alike in their novels-a common attention to masculinity, death and sacrificed love-and what differs under the influences of varying cultural and familial backgrounds and individual war experiences. Hemingway's literary treatment of sex shows the restraint of lingering Victorianism, whereas Salter's characters-created in the context of midcentury and postmodern mores-need not swear undying devotion to their bed partners. Hemingway's protagonists express disillusion with war; but Salter's jet pilot exalts in the sensual loneliness of combat in the sky; while far below in the jungles, O'Brien's trudging infantryman is wondering why he didn't go to Canada and skip all the "glory and honor. …

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