Dinosaur on an Island by Walter McAuliffe

Dinosaur on an Island (BookBaby, 238 pp., paperback) is a novel by Vietnam War veteran Walter McAuliffe. The title refers to a person who is orphaned, has to survive on his own, and is not at home in this technological world.

McAuliffe, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, opens with a warning that the book may be funny, scary, and aggravating. The first chapter revolves around a social worker helping a veteran named Greg, who is disabled and has PTSD. 

What follows are Greg’s stories. They have the common theme of “brutal reality,” including a list of the “Brutal Reality Rules of Life.” One is, “Don’t put a loaf in the oven, unless you own the bakery.” The rest are equally meme-worthy.

The first half of the novel tells Greg’s story. Being from a fractured family, Greg becomes a member of several of his friends’ families. The core group has adventures that are sometimes fueled by alcohol and fall in the category of juvenile delinquency. 

The second half of the book starts with Greg getting drafted and arriving in Vietnam. Then, suddenly, McAuliffe switches to commenting on what he sees as America’s social and political ills. McAuliffe is particularly incensed about “unauthorized military actions,” wars such as the one in Vietnam that were not approved by Congress. He’s also unhappy about government bailouts.

This unusual novel reads like a long civics lesson from an old man sitting on his porch. The first half contains fairly interesting vignettes about teenagers doing naughty things. The second, though, half took me by surprise. I was expecting to read about Greg’s tour of duty. But we mainly get McAuliffe’s thoughts and opinions about political issues.

He’s not clearly a conservative or a liberal, and seems to understand the issues well. But most of his solutions, even if sensible, are not doable. And his opinions will turn off a large segment of the population. Others might be turned off by his breaking the fourth wall to address teenagers.

Despite the book’s obvious passion, some of it is diluted misspellings and grammatical errors. McAuliffe, for examples, misspells “cavalry” and “lightning.” He capitalizes “war” and doesn’t capitalize “White House.”  He uses “misconstrued” when he means “confused.”   

He also is hazy on history. He writes that George H.W. Bush said, “Watch my lips.” He says that America invaded Korea at the beginning of that war. He overuses slang terms like “pant load,” “dirt nap,” and “bed bug.” The funniest and most-informative part of the book is the glossary of his slang.

The first half of Dinosaur on an Island is imaginative, but what you’ll think about the second half depends on whether you believe America has the problems that McAuliffe writes about. Readers will find some red meat here, but might also do some head-scratching.

–Kevin Hardy