three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
By: 
Nick Arvin
user_rating: 
0

A-ArticlesWarGeorge Tilson, an 18-year-old Iowa farm boy, is drafted to serve in the waning days of World War II. Daunted by his fellow draftees—who nickname him Heck for his refusal to curse—George feels isolated, unprepared for battle, and consumed with doubt about his capacity for heroism. The scenes on the Normandy battlefield expose these internal conflicts. George yearns to prove his valor, but struggles when faced with battlefield reality. An encounter with Eddie Slovik, the first American soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War, underlines the slippery morality of wartime.
Doubleday. 192 pages. $17. ISBN: 0385512775

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The nature of cowardice, perceived and real, plays a major role in Articles of War. … Arvin leaves the key judgments in the hands of his readers, and he does it in a way that ends up feeling very personal." Robin Vidimos

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"I admire many things in this novel, but none more than Arvin’s refusal to shrink from the dark psychological torment that Heck must logically endure. War is cruel in many ways, and Arvin has uncovered ones that make Articles of War a necessary addition to war literature and a book I won’t soon forget." Marta Salij

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Arvin’s ability to capture the grim and fragmented atmosphere of war-demolished France parallels his deft hand in exploring the inner reverberations of Heck, full of unmatched hope and monumental insecurities. Such descriptions quake with enormity, and Arvin’s handle on the psychological gravity is both immense and extraordinary." Amy L. Stoll

Sunday Gazette-Mail 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s in the second half of the book that Arvin shows he is a master of human psychology and the uses of irony. The battle scenes are claustrophobic and too accurate: You’ll be smelling cordite before the end and throwing yourself to the ground at every unexpected noise." Marta Salij

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Like Stephen Crane, who wrote the classic Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, Arvin has never been in combat, although you wouldn’t know that from his novel. His details are simple yet devastating: Heck watches a soldier sprinkling sulfa powder into the empty socket of his own eye."
Bob Minzesheimer

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His style is restrained and minimalist, but one eerily striking scene follows another." Ron Charles

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"… Mr. Arvin also introduces the standard ingredient of romance and has Heck fall for Claire … [who] gives Heck a music box as a souvenir. He carries it with him throughout the novel. … Not even [a key plot point] can make up for that music box’s cheesy symbolic value." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Arvin, inspired by his grandfathers’ service during World War II (one with American forces, the other with the German Army), captures the horrors of battle in his first novel. Leaving out the epic sweep of standard historical fiction, the author builds his narrative from one young soldier’s experience. Arvin is especially acute in his examination of the psychology of bravery when faced with devastation. His minimalist prose, which captures the panic, horror, carnage, and chaos of war, packs more emotional and descriptive punch than its simplicity would denote. Only the romantic subplot involving Heck and a French girl draws sustained critical fire, especially from The New York Times. But most agree that Articles of War is a timely, self-assured debut.