Angelo Presicci’s Fighting the Bad War (Night Horn Books, 232 pp. $24.95, paper) is a collection of seventeen autobiographical linked short stories that take place during the war in Vietnam and the immediate post-war years. Presicci served in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry in 1966-67. His writing style kept my interest as I went from one story to another.
In the first story, “The Tunnel,” we witness “a few men in one of those futile military chores like shifting dirt.” One guy likes to show off Polaroid pictures of “rotting, bloated bodies.” Two men, much to their dismay, are told to check out a tunnel.
The NCO giving the order says, “Take my word, it’s gonna be OK down there.” When asked how he knows that, he replies, “I don’t goddamn hafta to know. My job is giving orders.” In the tunnel the men encounter “tropical roaches the size of Arizona.”
In “Countdown” we read of a man who enlisted with the hope of avoiding combat. He is pleased to be given a job working on generators until he is told, “If you can take a generator apart and reassemble the damn thing, why not a machine gun?”
“All the Undecorated Heroes” features a pet monkey and a commanding officer who sees the war only as “dots and coordinates on maps and grids.” He says things like, “Charlie’s out there. Today’s our lucky day.” No surprise that talk of fragging inevitably comes up.
“Graveside Etiquette” consists almost entirely of Catch-22-type dialogue.
In my favorite story, “A Day in the Life of Sen Wah,” focuses on an 18-year-old Vietnamese girl in Xuan Loc. “She backed away out of the crowd and watched the Americans, some of them handsome and rugged, and bigger than their Vietnamese counterparts,” Presicci writes. “Wasn’t that what made them feel superior?”
Sen Wah is unsure about her father’s loyalties as she helps him serve water buffalo burgers to the Americans. We learn she wanted to teach, but U.S. bombs destroyed her school, killing some of the children in the process. “We were once normal innocent students,” she says, “and now we are normal with being at war.”
That story is followed by my second favorite, “Poker Night,” in which a poker game ends up providing more action than anyone anticipated.
The stories in the second half of the book take place in the U.S. between the years of 1970 and 1986. They include some of the characters in the first group of stories and involve flashbacks, troubled attempts to return to school, the guilt of a man who avoided service, and the effects of the war on those who remained home.
This book can be read as if it’s a novel divided into two parts. It’s to Angelo Pressici’s great credit that both halves are equally well done. I hope to read for more stories from him.