Everybody’s Gulf War Syndrome is a little bit different. Or so believes Larry, who returns home from Desert Storm to find his hair gone and his bones rapidly disintegrating. Then there’s Lance Corporal James Laverne of the US Marines, who grows a third ear in Kuwait. And in the audaciously comic novella “Notes from a Bunker Along Highway 8,” a Green Beret deserts his team after seeing a vision of George Washington, only to find a new calling—administering aid to wounded Iraqi civilians; he’s hindered only by the furtive nature of his mission and an unruly band of chimpanzees. Together these narratives form a bracing amalgamation of devastating humor and brilliant cultural observation, in which Gabe Hudson fearlessly explores the darker implications of American military power.
The Gulf War may not be the sort of glamorous conflict that lends itself to shoot-'em-up war fiction, but the Middle East face-off does seem ideal fodder for the eight darkly comic, military gothic short stories in Hudson's first collection. "The Cure as I Found It" is a twisted yarn about a vet with Gulf War syndrome who finds peace only after confronting a Brooklyn neighborhood thug who killed his cat. "Cross Dresser" takes the form of a former POW's letter to his shrink after he switches bodies with his 13-year-old daughter to elude his Iraqi tormentors. The title story is a humorous ode to the power of biological warfare as a soldier begins to grow a third ear on his torso after returning home. In "Woman in Uniform," a soldier muses about a female soldier in his squad as well as his nymphomaniac ex-girlfriend while his unit becomes enmeshed in a My Lai-like incident. The best and most complex story is the wonderfully weird "Notes From a Bunker Along Highway #8," which deals with a soldier who saves a fallen comrade and suddenly deserts his unit, only to become trapped in a bunker with a discarded group of chimps. Hudson, a former marine reserves rifleman, displays a brilliantly macabre sense of humor, a fine ear for military and bureaucratic clich s and abundant compassion for his quirky, bruised characters. This is a fine debut that may remind readers of George Saunders. (Aug. 30) Forecast: Hudson's high-profile head start he has racked up appearances in the New Yorker's 2001 Debut Fiction issue and Dave Eggers's literary/humor rag McSweeney's has already gotten this collection on readers' radar screens. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.