The publication of Jarhead launched a new career for Anthony Swofford, earning him accolades for its gritty and unexpected portraits of the soldiers who fought in the Gulf War. It spawned a Hollywood movie. It made Swofford famous and wealthy. It also nearly killed him.
Now with the same unremitting intensity he brought to his first memoir, Swofford describes his search for identity, meaning, and a reconciliation with his dying father in the years after he returned from serving as a sniper in the Marines. Adjusting to life after war, he watched his older brother succumb to cancer and his first marriage disintegrate, leading him to pursue a lifestyle in Manhattan that brought him to the brink of collapse. Consumed by drugs, drinking, expensive cars, and women, Swofford lost almost everything and everyone that mattered to him.
When a son is in trouble he hopes to turn to his greatest source of wisdom and support: his father. But Swofford and his father didn’t exactly have that kind of relationship. The key, he realized, was to confront the man-a philandering, once hard-drinking, now terminally ill Vietnam vet he had struggled hard to understand and even harder to love. The two stubborn, strong-willed war vets embarked on a series of RV trips that quickly became a kind of reckoning in which Swofford took his father to task for a lifetime of infidelities and abuse. For many years Swofford had considered combat the decisive test of a man’s greatness. With the understanding that came from these trips and the fateful encounter that took him to a like-minded woman named Christa, Swofford began to understand that becoming a father himself might be the ultimate measure of his life.
Elegantly weaving his family’s past with his own present-nights of excess and sexual conquest, visits with injured war veterans, and a near-fatal car crash-Swofford casts a courageous, insistent eye on both his father and himself in order to make sense of what his military service meant, and to decide, after nearly ending it, what his life can and should become as a man, a veteran, and a father.
About Anthony Swofford
Anthony Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. After the war, he was educated at American River College; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa and Lewis and Clark College. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, Men’s Journal, The Iowa Review, and other publications; his memoir Jarhead was a major New York Times bestseller, and the basis for the movie of the same name. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient, he lives in the Hudson Valley, in New York.
In his first memoir, Swofford (Exit A, 2007, etc.) chronicled his brutal stint as a sniper in the First Gulf War. A smash success, the book was made into an eponymous Hollywood movie. Reveling in his newfound fame, Swofford relished his easy access to money, casual sex and drugs. Here, he chronicles how his overindulgence in all three resulted in the loss of his fortune. The stream of women feels endless; he cheated and lied about being in love, using sex to quell boredom and his deep, sometimes deadly, loneliness and intermittent hopelessness. Details of intimate entanglements with women, booze and a rainbow of prescription pills make for sometimes painful reading, as one relationship after another crashes and burns, and the hypersexual Swofford displays little to no emotional growth or empathy. Simultaneously, he revisits his volatile, even hateful, relationship with his father, a veteran who verbally and occasionally physically abused his three children. Swofford’s father is now divorced and suffering from emphysema, but this pitiable state doesn’t blunt the author’s rage about his father’s past failings. These include a laundry list of misdeeds, such as the time Swofford overlooked dog droppings that he’d been charged with picking up and his father dragged him across the yard and held his face inches away from the feces. Flooded with anger toward his father, Swofford is choked by grief when recalling vivid memories of his older brother, Jeff, who died of cancer as an adult. Swofford’s writing, like many of his stories, is explosive. – Kirkus Reviews
After War And Fame, Dad Is Author’s Challenge
NPR Book Review – June 17, 2012 (Excerpt)
Seven years ago, writer and former U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford had the success of a lifetime when his 2003 memoir Jarhead was turned into a high-budget Hollywood movie.
Swofford, then 35, had hit it big. But flush with cash and still grappling with post-war life, he suddenly found himself in the throes of a self-destructive rampage replete with drugs, alcohol and infidelity.
He recounts the battle to become himself in a new memoir,Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails. Swofford spoke to NPR’s Jacki Lyden about why so many battle the men who raised them, and how he won his own fight with the help of a Winnebago and the open road. [Read the full article...]
“Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails: A Memoir” by Anthony Swofford
The Washington Post Book Review – June 23, 2012 (Excerpt)
Anthony Swofford has a daddy problem. His father, it turns out, “built a roof of shame for his family to live under.” The details of that failed relationship spool out gracelessly, tediously and minutely — gathered loosely into a book that reads like a few dozen afterthoughts taped together at random.
Nine years ago, the former Marine published his first book to great acclaim. “Jarhead,” a Gulf War memoir, told a story about a military institution in a particular cultural setting and a particular war. It was a book by a young writer who was able to look around and describe the world he saw.
In the intervening years, Swofford’s view has shrunk. He no longer appears to see much more than himself, placing the next decade of his life story in a hazy cultural setting of no apparent importance. His world has become merely personal. This choice seems to reflect a publishing convention as much as it suggests a writer’s choice. As Swofford tells us about his second wife, also a writer, “Christa sat at home in Brooklyn writing her own book about her own dysfunctional family.” [Read the full article...]
A Tale of Post-Traumatic Success Disorder
The New York Times Book Review – June 25, 2012 (Excerpt)
Halfway through this intense but ungainly memoir Anthony Swofford describes being enraged at his father and taking his fury out in his driving, as he guns his BMW M3 down an upstate New York highway, ripping through its gears, “an angry man in a sick-fast car,” doing twice the 45 m.p.h. speed limit. “In front of me was about two miles of mostly straight road,” he writes, “and I killed it, I chewed it up, the speedo climbed to 90, and then 105, and then 120, and then 130, and then it hovered and ticked at 133; the world flew by, seasons changed, my heart hung at the edge of the world. I could die, I could kill myself with a flick of my wrist and it would look like a mistake, a daredevil young writer, war veteran, pushing all the limits at once and doing a header into a tree with his $65,000 car.”
As “Jarhead” (2003), his harrowing account of serving with the Marines during the first gulf war, so eloquently attests, Mr. Swofford can write like he drives: fast and furious and profane, a poet’s touch control channeling all the testosterone and adrenaline into a high-test, high-wire performance. His new memoir, “Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails,” lacks the visceral kick and emotional resonance of “Jarhead,” but while it’s a much more uneven performance, it reminds us of the power of Mr. Swofford’s prose — his ability to conjure a mood, a time, a place with a flick of his pen. [Read the full article...]
Fast and Furious - ‘Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails,’ by Anthony Swofford
The New York Times Book Review – July 20, 2012 (Excerpt)
In his first book, “Jarhead,” Anthony Swofford interrupts an account of his sister’s troubled relationship with their dad to announce, “Incidentally, my father was never a bastard to me.”
Swofford has changed his mind. His new memoir, “Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails,” offers a portrait of his father, John Howard Swofford, as a terrific bastard — to Anthony, his “spitting image,” as well as to everyone else.
Much has happened to Swofford filsin the almost 10 years that have elapsed between the two memoirs: he earned a great deal of money from “Jarhead,” an account of his service as a Marine in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and its film adaptation; he spent most of that money on “women, wine, drugs, cars and booze”; he became suicidal; he wrote a novel, “Exit A”; he put a lot of miles on “sick fast” cars, often driving them under the influence and once into several trees and a telephone pole; he got married and divorced; he got married again and had a daughter. And before this last milestone he had a lot of sex, some of it in (parked) cars.
Indeed, no crossroad in Swofford’s journey fails to inspire a sexual detour. Sex, he reports, “kept me sane,” but his dogged, tedious bookkeeping begins to drive the reader mad: sex high on alcohol and cocaine; sex on Ambien; sex in bathrooms; sex in an orchard and sex in the woods; sex with two different women on two different floors of the same Tokyo hotel; sex with his sister’s friend on the floor of his dying brother’s bedroom: “I thought his eyes were open but I couldn’t tell. I thought I saw a smile, but I couldn’t tell.” [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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