i finally finished dave's book
. in truth, i devoured it in about two sessions, but the two sessions were embarrassingly far apart. after session number one, i sent dave an e-mail that said this:
subject line: you fucking brilliant bastard...
text: dave, your book is perfect. you've made art.
now that i've finished it, and the two typos i found notwithstanding (hello first edition), i still think that my dear friend has managed to create art. he's found the right balance between the personal and the universal, the emotional and the intellectual, the religious and the academic, and shows a real journey, a grappling with things that are much bigger than him, much bigger than us, much bigger than lifetimes. but the themes have been with us all along -- violence, war, how we deal with the images we can't understand but can't tear ourselves from, the way those images invite us to explore the darkness about ourselves.
i've now given this book to two professors. law professors. i'm not sure what their thoughts will be. i wanted to show off my friend, i thought that some of the content of dave's book was relevant to their own interests. i hope they'll find it important, but on a realistic level, i don't care. i know that my experience of this book is largely colored by the reality that i know the author very well, i know the people and places he writes about, i knew when he was working on the book. of course, i'm invested in it in a different way than one who encounters the book as a typical reader. yet, i'm still a reader...
what impresses me most about the book, both as a reader and as the author's friend, is its honesty. i'm generally skeptical of memoirs (not to classify this as a memoir, because it certainly is not, but dave does draw largely from his own headspace in the way he writes) -- my experience is that few people have the courage to write about their lives truthfully, casting into light the things that really make them human -- their fears, their flaws, their fuck-ups. sure, memoirs necessarily include these things as a matter of storytelling, but so often it becomes self-indulgently dramatic and confessional, it doesn't go anywhere. and worse, not only does it not go anywhere, but it fails to take the reader somewhere. but when it works, it's the stuff of greatness. the best memoir i've read is called "boy with loaded gun
", written by one of dave's professors and mentors, lewis "buddy" nordan. nordan made me cry, made me laugh, but mostly made me feel
that he was like me -- he was a person. he had the balls to reveal the parts of himself that truly humbled him. those parts aren't pretty. those parts of me aren't pretty. call me whatever, but i'm of the opinion that writers who use their own lives as subject matter have a responsibility to their readers to show that shit happens, that life can make us ugly, that we make bad decisions, but those dark moments create the real opportunities for us to figure out how to see the bright moments, opportunities for us to find beauty.
in dave's essay "prime directive", the sixth essay in "a good war is hard to find", he writes about being at a halloween party, dressed as captain kirk (btw, the cell phone that mr. sulu borrowed to use as his trekkie communications device belonged to stean), and running into a friend who is dressed as army specialist charles graner
. the kid qua graner has a polaroid, takes pictures with others at the party with a black bag over their heads, just like the images from the abu ghraib scandal. dave is caught in the moment, he poses for a picture with this kid, even makes the thumbs up sign...and later, after the costumed festivities have passed, after the giddyness settles down, realizes the absolute horror of this whole affair.
this picture appears in dave's book, on pages 122-23. right before the essay begins. when i saw it, i didn't yet know the content of the essay, but i was well aware of how important the idea of images is to what dave is writing about. i almost didn't recognize the guy in the photo as my friend, and would have doubted it had it not been for the characteristic gap in the kid's smiling teeth. and once i got to the part in the essay where the significance of the photo was clear, i realized that for dave, being honest and truthful as a writer meant having no choice but to include that image in his book. to me, as his friend and reader, it speaks volumes (pardon the pun) to his devotion to what he's chosen to do with his life. it tells me he's not afraid to turn his own self-awareness inside out, so that it becomes his readers' darkness as well.
and that's the kind of stuff that shows that david a. griffith has set himself on the path to being a writer with a voice, a clear voice, a voice with something to say. i look forward to more listening.