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Paco's Story: A Novel [Paperback]

Larry Heinemann
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 12 2005 Vintage Contemporaries
Paco Sullivan is the only man in Alpha Company to survive a cataclysmic Viet Cong attack on Fire Base Harriette in Vietnam. Everyone else is annihilated. When a medic finally rescues Paco almost two days later, he is waiting to die, flies and maggots covering his burnt, shattered body. He winds up back in the US with his legs full of pins, daily rations of Librium and Valium, and no sense of what to do next. One evening, on the tail of a rainstorm, he limps off the bus and into the small town of Boone, determined to find a real job and a real bed–but no matter how hard he works, nothing muffles the anguish in his mind and body. Brilliantly and vividly written, Paco’s Story–winner of a National Book Award–plunges you into the violence and casual cruelty of the Vietnam War, and the ghostly aftermath that often dealt the harshest blows.

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From Amazon

Paco Sullivan arrives in town penniless and job-hunting, the rain evaporating off the street forming "pungent steam so thick you would think his legs were cut off at the knees." In truth, the enigmatic Paco is indeed crippled. He is the sole survivor of an infantry company "pulverized to ash" in the Vietnam War. The methodical monotony of a dishwashing job in a diner offers some salve, though everyday things bring back savage memories. Heinemann's second novel--the first, Close Quarters, was based on his combat experience in Vietnam--is narrated through the collective voices of Paco's dead colleagues and offers a war veteran's envious and despairing view of the regular world. Paco's Story won the 1987 National Book Award. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

When incoming fire lights up the sky over the good old boys at Fire Base Harriet in Vietnam, the tough soldiers just look at each other and settle in, certain that the nearly 100 of them will die. And all but one are visited by the descending brightness that tears their bodies apart. The ghost of one of these soldiers narrates the story of survivor Paco Sullivan, who lies covered with flies and dirt for two days before being rescued. Badly scarred and limping, he returns to the States and becomes an introspective dishwasher in a small Texas town. This is a well-written, ruminative work in an easy-going, down-home dialect that makes the awful memories of the warthankfullya little bit distant. Heinemann (Close Quarters has a promising talent, but his novel needs a sense of propulsion, not just excellent tales and fine dialogue; and his women should also be more than lusty objects of men's desires. As is, his work is just short of important.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Up with the best for returned veteran stories Feb. 14 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
When I first started this book, I had to put it down for a few days and read something else. The rambling "device" at first put me off as annoying. I warmed to the unusual style, however, on the second try and was amply rewarded. As a Vietnam veteran I can be easily offend with the "loser" image of a returned veteran. But this is misleading. Paco is severely wounded and simply wants to work hard (most likely a penitent) and be left alone. He finds his safe harbor in Ernest, the owner of the Texas Lunch diner, where he washes dishes (washing away his sins, yes yes I get it). Ernest's ramblings about combat on Iwo and Guadalcanal add a great coda and understanding. Heinemann really brings these characters to life, especially the talk about combat and how they feel. The most intriguing character is Jesse, another vagabond Viet vet who stops for dinner. As I am also a former paratrooper, Jesse's rantings and observations are priceless. Pay attention to what Jesse says about the "proposed" Vietnam Memorial. Understand Scruggs's idea came about in March 1979, with Heinemann publishing excerpts of this book starting in 1979 (winning the Book Award in 1987). But Cathy gives us a view of how others see us, no matter how unfair that may be. Cathy at first sees Paco as "cute" then "ugly" as she observes him night after night with his nightmares. What Paco reads in Cathy's diary is what many civilians felt about us deep down and their refusal to help in reintegration. One final unrelated note: one reviewer of this book may be unaware that Caputo served in Vietnam, whereas Clancy never served in the military. Heinemann is the real deal, with characters very real to me and my experiences.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Dec 19 2003
By HeyJudy
Format:Hardcover
PACO'S STORY is the definitive novel of the Vietnam "conflict" as told from the point of view of a lowly soldier in the thick of the fight.
Author Larry Heinemann's use of language is so lyrical that the prose here has a rhythm that is musical. His descriptions are graphic enough that the reader almost can smell the blood, hear the screams, taste the fear.
At times, PACO'S STORY is painful to read, but that is a direct consequence of Heinemann's mastery of the topic. This novel deservedly won the National Book Award.
PACO'S STORY is as significant report of the Vietnam era as CATCH-22 was of World War II.
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5.0 out of 5 stars the real crime . . . Feb. 23 2000
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The fact that this novel is now out of print is more of a crime than any other moral dilemma the reader of Heinneman's masterpiece will encounter. Ask yourself two questions: what is the crime, and who are the criminals. Warning: your answer may change several times before you close the book.
Not for the weak at heart, Paco's Story is a no-holds-barred narrative told in the most haunting of voices. A must read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-rate work March 21 2000
By Tyler Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Paco's Story" is an outstanding addition to the canon of fiction about the American soldier's experience in Vietnam. Its additional contribution lies in its exploration of the challenges facing the veteran upon his return to the U.S.
The novel is unsparing in its criticism of a country that was all to eager to send young men off to fight in a controversial war in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but not so enthusiastic about dealing with them when they returned, wounded both physically and psychically. The novel also presents a world in which the soldiers on both sides are dehumanized by guerilla warfare and surrender to evil.
What is Paco's story? It's a story of a grunt who survives a firestorm attack that kills all of his comrades; who clings to life desperately in a hospital far from home; who returns to the States with a cane and a complex of scars disfiguring his body; who lives day in and day out with the knowledge that he lived a life in Vietnam that he can explain to almost no one on the planet.
We see him arrive in a small town via bus, looking for work. We watch him encounter fellow Americans who haven't a clue about what he has endured on their behalf and who do not appear to want to know. We return with him to experience the drudgery and brutality of life in a faraway land and the horrible day that changed his life forever. We listen to him commune with the ghosts of the men with whom he fought in Vietnam.
Finally, we see him depart the town as suddenly as he came, having discovered that a girl upon whom he has spied and fantasized sees him as a disgusting freak.
This is a bitter, eloquent novel that reminds us that we should never forget the soldiers who paid dearly for their service to the country. The wounds they suffered overseas should never be compounded by wounds inflicted by their own countrymen.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story Worth Reading June 9 2005
By Karen Briggs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book gives a glimpse into the toll that war takes on those who survive. No one but those who endure it can truly fathom the horrors of PTSD, but for the rest of us who want to understand, this book is the best I've read yet. Paco wanders through his life finding some solace in washing dishes in a small diner in Texas, losing himself in his work and barely surviving mentally from day to day. The style of writing drew me into Paco's suffering. Although it is fiction, it is written by a Vietnam vet and left me wondering how many Pacos there are among us. His story is one that may well haunt you long after the final page is read.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up with the best for returned veteran stories Feb. 14 2004
By S. Annand - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
When I first started this book, I had to put it down for a few days and read something else. The rambling "device" at first put me off as annoying. I warmed to the unusual style, however, on the second try and was amply rewarded. As a Vietnam veteran I can be easily offend with the "loser" image of a returned veteran. But this is misleading. Paco is severely wounded and simply wants to work hard (most likely a penitent) and be left alone. He finds his safe harbor in Ernest, the owner of the Texas Lunch diner, where he washes dishes (washing away his sins, yes yes I get it). Ernest's ramblings about combat on Iwo and Guadalcanal add a great coda and understanding. Heinemann really brings these characters to life, especially the talk about combat and how they feel. The most intriguing character is Jesse, another vagabond Viet vet who stops for dinner. As I am also a former paratrooper, Jesse's rantings and observations are priceless. Pay attention to what Jesse says about the "proposed" Vietnam Memorial. Understand Scruggs's idea came about in March 1979, with Heinemann publishing excerpts of this book starting in 1979 (winning the Book Award in 1987). But Cathy gives us a view of how others see us, no matter how unfair that may be. Cathy at first sees Paco as "cute" then "ugly" as she observes him night after night with his nightmares. What Paco reads in Cathy's diary is what many civilians felt about us deep down and their refusal to help in reintegration. One final unrelated note: one reviewer of this book may be unaware that Caputo served in Vietnam, whereas Clancy never served in the military. Heinemann is the real deal, with characters very real to me and my experiences.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing like a Vietnam ghost story Dec 31 2008
By Ron Lealos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Paco's Story, while revolving around a fantasy, is full of the reality of a bloody mindless war. The book goes well beyond just scenes of combat into the mind and heart of a survivor who believes he should have joined his buddies in the afterlife. Heineman relays fictional accounts of a tour in the jungle against the coming home of a mangled vet. It is at times astounding. At others, heartbreaking. An excelent descent into the horror of this war.
Ron Lealos author of Don't Mean Nuthin'
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snapshot of Life During/After Nam Jan. 17 2006
By L. Mintah - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Paco's Story is about young Paco Sullivan. Sole survivor of his unit's ambush, he has returned to the States to look for work. Left with painful injuries that require powerful painkillers every day, Paco encounters both curiousity and discrimination from the locals in the small town he ends up in.

Paco's story is written with graphic, lyrical language that brings his horrific war memories, and his trying to fit in as a veteran of a war that nobody really understood, to life. Heinemann writes in an unusual, dream-like way that just draws the reader in, until they feel like they are feeling what Paco feels. He writes of Paco's seemingly mundane experiences and transforms them into something cathartic. A must read for anyone interested in Nam.
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