Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: Big Diehl by George Seaton

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by MLR Press

Big Diehl (pronounced Big Deal) escapes his going-nowhere ranch life in Laramie, Wyoming the day after he graduated high school. But leaving does not erase the emotional pain inflicted by eighteen years of life with his trailer-trash father.

Diehl’s search for his place in the world leads him to an army recruiting office in Casper. While waiting for the army to process his paperwork, he is temporarily adopted by a pair of hospitable lesbians who own a local bar. They put him up at their ranch where he meets Tony, another “waif” that the ladies have taken in. As it turns out, Tony had been an exemplary Marine until he ran face first into a brick wall called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Diehl and Tony begin to forge a relationship, but the Army intervenes and ships Diehl to boot camp.

Diehl finds Army life satisfying except for the need to hide his sexuality. Opportunities come and go with other desperately lonely souls like himself. He takes advantage of some, not others. The need for stealth limits all relationships to a one-time thing. Or is that Diehl’s emotional pain won’t let him get close to anyone?

After 9/11, Diehl finds himself a squad leader in Iraq, trying to keep his boys alive. The horrors of war and Army life shape Diehl into a man, a troubled man to be sure, but none the less a man of grit. When Diehl’s Iraq tour is suddenly cut short, he finds that he now has the strength to face his pain and confront his past. But does he have the will to fashion a more satisfying life, one where he can settle down with one man? You can ask but I won’t tell.

I found this to be a completely satisfying read. The characters and situations are completely believable. In fact, having spent four years in the Navy, during which time I hid deeply in the closet, Diehl’s experiences brought back many memories of living stealth – so many terribly lonely nights and the constant fear of being caught. This story makes a strong and clear statement about the emotional pain suffered by brave men and women honorably serving their county.

I found this read occasionally touching without becoming overly so. And although the ending is not happily ever after, it was a strong and sensible conclusion.

In addition to being emotionally stratifying, I found this story extremely well structured and well written. It has a clipped language that took me several pages to become accustomed to, but once I did I love the author’s voice.

The character of Diehl is well drawn and completely likable. If I have any minor complaint about this story is that some of the other characters could have had more depth. My only other complaint is that the story is a bit short, about 85 pages. I saw many opportunities to expand the story into something longer, but hey. I’m nit picking. I highly recommend Big Diehl.

For more information about this book, press here.

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