Buffalo Afternoon

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Author Alfred A. Knopf $19.95 (535p) ISBN 978-0-394-57178-2
Those who read Schaeffer's unforgettable Anya would marvel if they knew that the author had never set foot in Poland or in the concentration camps, where that novel was set. Schaeffer has again produced a tour de force in this stunning Vietnam chronicle, in which she conveys the emotions and actions of men in battle and the anguish of those who survive and are irrevocably scarred. She does this in a narrative of epic length that moves, with few lapses, with the implacable power of fate. Her protagonist is Brooklyn-born juvenile offender Pete Bravado, who joins the army at 17 to escape his brutal father. Once in Vietnam, Pete experiences the boredom and bone-chilling fatigue, the battle-terror, the atrocities involved in all warfare and others particular to this terrible conflict. Schaeffer is a storyteller who accumulates quotidian details to compose the larger picture. In this case she conveys the atmosphere of the base camp and the field: the narrative brims with authentic detail of how men talk, think and feel under fire, as well as the resentment and anger, the camaraderie and the genuine love that comes of living at close quarters and depending on each other for survival. She is as convincing as any of our Vietnam novelists so far in depicting the ways men become brutalized by carnage, and sometimes immobilized by pity. And she conveys the senselessness of it all; the fatuity of the top command, the knowledge of the men that they were fighting an unjust, unwinnable war. Schaeffer builds slowly, always careful to show wellsprings of character, following Pete as he returns home to endure the double penalty of post-combat psychosis and the hostility of many Americans toward Vietnam veterans. Sometimes the text's verisimilitude to the monotony of life is overdone and the detail becomes numbing. Sometimes, too, Pete's troubles seem endless. But if this is a tale of almost unmitigated sorrow, it is also an authentic testament to a tragedy of our times. 500,000 first printing; Literary Guild featured alternate. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/30/1989
Release date: 05/01/1989
Mass Market Paperbound - 10 pages - 978-0-8041-0580-4
Hardcover - 978-0-517-05700-1
Paperback - 560 pages - 978-0-393-32522-5
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