Book Review: Articles of War (2005)

I don’t read a lot of novels. As a result, it’s unusual for me to read two in a row, let alone two first novels. That’s happened in the last week, due in part to the fact these were slim volumes that provided breaks from the 600-page biography of Leonardo da Vinci that is pointing out deficiencies in my art and art history education.

The Society of Others was top-notch. Articles of War doesn’t reach the same heights but has its own redeeming qualities. Nick Arvin, a mechanical engineer who is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a concise, to the point writer. The novel is about “Heck,” an 18-year-old Iowa farm boy who is drafted and ends up in the infantry in Europe in late 1944.

Arvin is excellent at describing the horrors, fear, confusion, self-doubt and depravations of war and battle. In fact, I expected the picture on the inside jacket to be of a man no younger than his 50s; Arvin, though, is barely 30. Still, some events seem too coincidental and contrived. The biggest problem is the careful pace is discarded to speed Heck to a brush with history and the ultimate personal denouement (which in and of itself I found wanting). For example, although Heck is there, the Battle of the Bulge seems merely a brief timepost. Yet these are not flaws of style or clarity but construction. Thus, Articles of War does serve as an excellent reminder of the joys of plain and clear writing.

Heck could not wait to be sent forward and he dreaded being sent forward: the two emotions alternated and on occasion commingled into a single piercing physical ache.

Nick Arvin, Articles of War

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