Before I get into my review, I wanted to share with everyone that this author is a blogger many of us have interacted with before. He shares writing advice. He is very supportive of other writers. He shares, tweets and re-blogs content to help market books, posts and thoughts from other people. He’s a solid guy and I’m privileged to be part of his online life… that said, I chose to read his book without him even bringing it up. And my review is completely free and clear of impacts from knowing him. He’s genuine and I thank him for the opportunity to read his work and about parts of his life. If you’re interested in reading more about him, check out his blog and other books. He’s also written a mystery series I can’t wait to get my hands on! But that will be another review later this summer… let’s get to the review on the first book of his I’ve read…
After noticing the author’s name mentioned a few times on various blogs, then seeing some reviews of his books, I downloaded a copy of The Private War of Corporal Henson by E.Michael Helms. I didn’t realize until I started reading the introduction that this is a follow-up to his first book about life in Vietnam, but I don’t think you need to read them in order, as it’s a bit of a mix: fiction and a semi-autobiographical memoir of his experiences during the war and adjusting to life afterward. I’m not a frequent non-fiction reader, and when I do, war isn’t usually the topic I’d want to learn about; however, I had a good feeling about this author’s work from seeing his blog and social media posts, so I chanced it. I’m glad I did and would give this 4.5 stars. Great work, Mr. Helms.
The novel takes place in the mid 1980s about 20 years after the Vietnam War has ended. Nathan Henson is struggling to live a full life without the past continually haunting him. He’s encouraged to meet up with other veterans and forms a group of guys who support one another through the days and nights. Nathan considers dating again, though he’s somewhat avoided it the last two decades. He and his friends decide how to balance the need for medicinal support, alcohol to calm the nerves, and truthful conversations that bring up a lot of pain. Consider it a coming-of-age journey thirty years later than normal, but that’s meant in a very supportive and honorable way. Nathan, like so many other soldiers, have to figure out how to re-formulate who they are in a world that is no longer the same both personally and globally.
I fully admit I was worried about the flashback scenes. It’s not that I can’t handle the violence or gore, actually rather than opposite — I like reading and seeing it when I know it’s fiction. But emotionally, it’s hard to accept this was a reality for many people in the past and even today. What Nathan endured, as well as his friends, and all the people we probably know in real life, including the author, is horrific… and when I see it in a movie or read about it in a book, it’s too much to handle without taking on some of the pain. So I tend to avoid these types of literature or flicks, but Helms provides the right balance of horror, humor, pain, survival, and support to make reading his story much easier than I’d expected. Whether it’s the right place or not, I feel an intense need to say thank you to the author as well as others in his similar position, for all the energy, effort and time they put into protecting people around the world and in my own country. Thank you, Mr. Helms for both your service and this book.
Nathan as a character is great. He’s well-depicted with both charm and old-school anger / attitude that toes the line of being raw and real, but also frustrating and compelling. I’ve never been thru anything like this, so I’ve no right to judge anyone’s behaviors… yet reading this story opens my eyes to how and why people act or react the way they do. You’re changed coming out of war. And Nathan and his friends deserve the right to take whatever time is needed to figure out their post-war life. It seems simple on the outside… you meet a girl, you fall in love and everything goes away. But that’s not how it is — and Helms’ descriptions, detailed emotions, thorough examples and witty commentary help make that plainly clear to someone on the far outside of the experience. Only a strong writer and someone who’s experienced these events could pull off that task. Kudos to him for making me believe what’s happened in the story and for awakening me to a different reality.
Helms shares a good balance of camaraderie between all the men in the group who meet regularly to discuss their experiences. Each has an opportunity to reflect back on what happened and how they are dealing with it. Sometimes things go well. Sometimes they do not. Each character is vivid. Nathan although not the leader of the group feels like it because he’s sort of narrating the story (not really, but that’s how it seems). He’s a solid guy, and when he has to cancel plans to support a friend, or debates loaning money to one, or we learn about medicine being sold on the side… you understand the bond these men share. You feel the pain when they reveal their stories and what happened to each of them. Who lost a limb and how did they deal with it? Who can’t allow himself to get close to anyone post war? Who has children but no job and can’t support his family? All the things that happen in reality are covered in this story, and as a reader, your heart aches for them.
That said, I also want to kick their ass a few times. Men talk. Sometimes it ‘vulgar’ but that’s the truth and how it happens especially in the 1980s. Helms provides a little of this side of life, too. He doesn’t hold back, but that’s a good thing. It elicited a bit of anger from me, just as it would from someone doing those things in real life around me. He’s got the dialect and voice down. The setting felt very 1980s to me. All good things in a memoir and a piece of fiction.
I’m not gonna lie and say it’s an easy book to get through. War is difficult. The savagery that happens to people in the army or navy is horrendous. You will hear those stories. You will need to put the book down for a few minutes to let it sink in and then somehow flush out of your system before you take on a new story of pain. But it’s well-written, balanced with positivity and humor, and forces you to accept some harsh (that word doesn’t truly do it justice) experiences many people in today’s world aren’t familiar with. Kudos to Helms for successfully pushing me out of my comfort zone on this one.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.