Most weekdays I read while eating lunch. I’ve been working on Buffalo Afternoon, by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, and have been lost in the world she has created, a real world that at times feel very otherworldly; The Vietnam War.
Yesterday, I finally finished chapter 21. It was the longest chapter I have read in ages, partly from its length. Mostly in how many lunchtimes it took me to get through it, which wasn’t due to overt gore, only a combination of interruptions, a road trip, the weekend falling where it did, and yes, the subject. Schaeffer didn’t stint on details; she made sure very little was left to the imagination, prose not sparse. Not that it’s terribly bloody, although how it ended yesterday was a bit disturbing, especially since I was finishing my bagel. But so honest, how could she not write those things? She wasn’t there, but conducted extensive research, and I have no doubt that at least one thing which occurred in chapter 21 was true. And probably more were too.
I read to learn something new, live a situation I otherwise would never experience. I read for pleasure, for knowledge, to escape. I read for research, which was why I bought this book in the first place. But I am reading it now because I knew it was next, just one of those things. And in reading it, I’m on a journey through a distant country, torn and amazing. Parts are dead, only the stray beetle scurrying across the ruined landscape. The men there are somewhat dead too, dead to the lives they left behind, dead to themselves. And, too often, deceased. Schaeffer doesn’t mince her words either, which at times is a relief. But while reading chapter 21 I needed to take breaks, I couldn’t stay in Vietnam indefinitely Those soldiers didn’t either, their tours lasting a year or thirteen months. But at the time, it felt like forever.
In chapter 21, I felt there was no way out.
If Ms. Schaeffer was alive, I would write and thank her for that long chapter, tell her how beautifully she described a brutal, awful, and in my opinion unnecessary conflict. She died last year, shortly after I came across this novel, so all I can do is tell anyone willing that Buffalo Afternoon is a fantastic novel, but not easy. Not simple, but lasting, powerful, as heavy-hitting as anything I have ever read before. Thousands of books exist, only a tiny fraction rising to where someone might catch a glimpse; Buffalo Afternoon needs to be one of those books for the subject matter and the timeless, precious, blatant and poetic prose Schaeffer chose to translate her vision, her view. A view through the eyes of men lost in a jungle, lost in time. The longest year of their lives; my musings about one extended chapter has nothing on what those men endured.