November 14th, 2005
One thing I did not expect to find in Anthony Swofford's Gulf War memoir, Jarhead, was a poignant evocation of how difficult it is to wait. But in his pages you can practically feel the tension escalating among Swofford and his fellow Marines as they sit around for an agonizingly long time, simultaneously hoping for and dreading the moment when they'll be called upon to kill -- or be killed. To a somewhat lesser extent, the current movie version also dramatizes the excruciating (and sometimes comic) behavior that this tension -- from the seemlingly endless stretch of non-activity -- brings out in these young men in a hot desert thousands of miles from home. But I have to say that my interview with Swofford -- which runs tonight at 7:30, and will be repeated Friday night at 10:30 -- seemed to go by just like that.
I think that's because Swofford's an intense guy. At first I attributed this intensity to his military background, but as we chatted I came to feel that his passion as a writer -- his joy in the craft -- more than matched his former urge to fight. I'm learning so much from this interviewing job, and one very gratifying aspect of that education is in exploring the complexity -- even the contradictions -- in each of my diverse guests. Before this interview, I had expected to meet a soldier; coming out of it, I felt -- more than anything -- that I had encountered a writer: a man whose life-or-death combat is with the blank page. It's a war he's winning.
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