|Review of Bullets and Bandages: Bond of Brothers by Robert J. Saniscalchi
Much longer than anything I have reviewed before, I am unsure whether this is intended to be a finished product or a work in progress. You mentioned something about this being a second edition, as though it were already published in a previous form. My comments are given, however, as entirely separate from the fact or otherwise of publication. A review is intended to give my impression of a work and to offer any suggestions for improvement that I can muster.
The piece reads like what it is: a memoir. It will inevitably be compared with some of the many other books written about the Viet Nam war, and I believe you have still to decide which way to go with it. As a memoir, it is restricted in interest to family members and friends and, possibly, those researching to write their own books on the war. You have already fictionalised it to some extent but, if you wish it to be a broad view of the war, you have a mountain of research to do.
All depends upon how many you would want to read the book. I shall take it that you want it purely as a memorial to your brother and are not interested in an assault on the best seller lists.
Not ideal, I think. You have two reasonable titles - either would do but using both is overkill. I must admit to preferring the second one.
It's a blow by blow account of the protagonist's first few days as a medic in service in the Viet Nam war. As such, it is probably realistic in its portrayal but becomes too repetitive and detailed to hold a reader's attention. The army is supposed to be a matter of hurry up and wait, and this catches that perfectly. The trouble is, it makes poor reading. To the writer falls the task of cutting out the repetition, allowing the reader to assume some of the steps to get where the action is going, and to spice up each incident, to find differences in each one, so that they take on their own character and remain memorable as a result.
I'm not saying it's easy. War tends to be a series of very similar, terror-filled incidents interspersed with long periods of inactivity. If that means that some events have to be removed from their actual occurrence and inserted into another, or even invented, to make things more vivid for the reader, then so be it. The alternative is to have something that reads like a statement to the police. It has all the facts in the correct order and they tend to induce sleep.
Think of it as your artistic licence. You're not a camera but a painter and you move things around, add colour where there isn't any, make light glow as it seldom does in real life - all to tell a story that, because it affects the reader strongly, is more true than a straight record of events.
I understand the need to be honest in your account. That is natural, given that this is a memoir. But, if yours is to stand out amongst many others, it needs more light and colour. Conversations, for instance, do not need to be repeated word for word (I know they're not - you can't remember conversations your brother had). Cut out the long, boring interchanges about very little and reduce the spoken word to brief, meaning-filled utterances.
I don't believe the characters as painted, anyway. They're just too good and unspoiled. It's not the Christianity - that's fine and I bet they really did do a lot of praying in their circumstances. It's their sweetness and light conversations. These are men deep in the most shocking experiences and traumas of their lives. You can bet their words will be a lot harsher and profane than they would under normal circumstances. They are going to swear, whatever their beliefs. And that's what makes it real for the reader.
Believing in the characters is enormously important for the reader. If we don't believe in them, we won't care what happens to them. So they have to be real.
You are obviously in command of the English language. Your writing is devoid of errors and you understand about plot and point of view. All the piece needs is for you to rewrite with a view to making it more exciting. Throw in tiny details, linger over moments of pure terror, let the reader feel what your brother felt, describe it, don't just state that it was like this or that. For instance, the guy who had the lower half of his body blown off, describe it, try to make the reader feel as sick as your brother did (you won't succeed in this - it's almost impossible to describe something so vividly that it induces nausea - but you can get close).
Step by step by step - variation in flow and pace is what maintains interest in the reader. And a book on war is ideal for this, containing long periods in which nothing much is happening, thereby allowing digressions into thoughts and a slower pace, and times when all hell breaks loose and the pace has to speed up to reflect this. Long sentences for the quiet periods, short, sharp ones for the action scenes.
I think I've made a few.
Favourite line or part:
I liked this as the first bit of humour I came across:
"Sam, also from Jersey, asked me: “So, Rob, why are you here?”
I looked at him with a straight face and answered: “You know, Sam, I really don’t know. Can I go home now?” We both laughed, and it helped ease the tension."
Just because it's a memoir doesn't mean it has to be ordinary. Lawrence of Arabia's Seven Pillars of Wisdom is both a memoir and a rollicking good story.