Minimal Damage by H. Lee Barnes

Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans, a collection of short fiction by H. Lee Barnes which we reviewed in the March/April 2008 printed edition of The VVA Veteran, is now out in paperback (University of Nevada Press, 200 pp., $19).

Here are excerpts from our review from 2008:

Back in 1995 I was blown away by Gunning for Ho, a collection of seven very, very good short stories, most of them set in Vietnam during the war, by H. Lee Barnes. All of them featured precisely drawn, realistic, yet off-kilter main characters—the hallmark of good short fiction. The plots took off in different directions in clever, sometimes surreal, ways. In one story, American troops and their NVA adversaries took a long time out from the war to play a baseball game.

Minimal Damage is another brilliant, beautifully rendered collection of short fiction. Each piece (there are six short stories and a terrific novella) centers on a veteran of an American war. This time Barnes—a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam and who teaches English and creative writing at the Community College of Southern Nevada—spreads the wealth. Three of the main characters, including the guy at the center of the gripping novella “Snake Boy,” are Vietnam War or era veterans; the others fought in Panama, the first Gulf War, Grenada, and Somalia.

H. Lee Barnes

Aside from a compelling main character, each of the stories has an intriguing plot that hums along rapidly. “Punishment,” which centers on a veteran of the fighting in Panama and the hours leading to his execution on death row, is an especially taut, tense tale.

“Private,” which takes place at basic training at Fort Polk, manages to shine fresh light on all the crazy-DI tales you’ve ever heard (and experienced). “Snake Boy” kept me on edge to the last sentence.

My highest compliment: I didn’t want any of the stories to end.

The author’s website is www.hleebarnes.net

—Marc Leepson

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