The war is Iraq. Young men are sent to fight an unseen enemy. No, not fight them, but kill them. Over and over. For the two protagonists, Bartle and Murphy, there doesn’t seem to be an especially compelling reason to kill faceless opponents even if they are trying to kill you and it is more than 100 degrees at night and you have not washed in days and you are only 19 years old on your first big trip away from home in the mountains of Appalachia. But it is kill or be killed so there is also a fight raging inside their sleep-deprived, tobacco-addled heads. Vietnam redux. Kevin Powers approach to his particular book about war is to use prose that is really poetry. Battles (mental and physical) bloom with literary ferocity. In the end he sidesteps the question of what went on over there, replacing it with the answer to how it felt to be there.
In a surprisingly so-so book, Jeffrey Toobin follows The Nine, his phenomenal account of the Supreme Court’s evolution from the 1970s to the Obama years, with a series of case since Obama took office. Toobin’s highly liberal perspective takes deep offense at the judicial activism spearheaded by the five to four Republican majority that now rules. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Fox-ian judges Scalia and Thomas have employed an originalist approach to the constitution positing that what the Founding Fathers laid out in the 18th century is immutable, which of course is nonsense. Rather, after several decades of a bench dominated by Democratic appointments whose members took judicial activism to enlarge the rights of minorities and the impoverished, the current Republican majority is turning the tables. Gun control, campaign finance reform, and employee rights are on the way out as corporate power gains ascendancy. Toobin cries foul and since I agree with his politics I concur with his conclusion, but his approach is transparently biased. The one exception was the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Obamacare; Roberts switched sides to give the President a victory, but even this Toobin argues was an intentionally forfeited battle in service to a greater conservative agenda. The cases Toobin selects are undoubtedly the most important of the last five years, although his explanations are sometimes so full of legal jargon they are difficult to absorb with only a single reading. Not as compelling as his first book — more of a series of sequential articles — but nonetheless I finished with a feeling of very deep unease about the future of the country.
A series of connected short stories about Yunior, a semi-autobiographical doppleganger for the author, Junot Diaz. Yunior is a streetwise Dominican immigrant in a poor neighborhood in New Jersey, son of a largely absentee father, an overwrought, overworked mother, and brother to Rafa an unrepentant womanizer dying of cancer. Yunior himself loves women, but mostly for their sex. Each one is a mountain to conquer, from whose peak there always seems to appear another on the horizon. And yet this disrespectful, infidelity prone schmo is not only lovable himself, but pitiful in his cluelessness. That is the secret of the book. We are simultaneously repelled by Yunior’s callousness toward women, a trait I have been assured is one hundred percent Dominican, and anxious to see him finally find the love he desperately craves. Yunior is a contemporary, hip-hop, Espanglish speaking Charlito Brown.