Thursday, July 22, 2010

Paco's Story Readalong - Week 3

Welcome to Week 3 of the Paco's Story Readalong. Our assignment for this week was Chapter 5, entitled "The Texas Lunch", which is the name of the diner where Paco starts working as a dishwasher.

I have to admit, I really struggled with this chapter. The prose seemed to wander all over the place, and my attention strayed so much that I wasn't sure what I had just read. I just shook my head and wondered if I would be able to answer any of the questions! Here they are:

1. Is the identity of the narrator becoming more clear?

My impression has always been that the narrator is the ghost of a soldier in Paco's unit. The narrator uses the term "us grunts" when reminiscing about things that occurred in Vietnam. There is also this passage:

"No, James, Paco has never asked Why me? It is we - the ghosts, the dead - who ask, Why him?"

I think that makes it pretty clear. My only confusion at this point is figuring out who James is. Others have mentioned a foreword in the book where this is all explained. My book does not have this explanation!

2. What is it about the work at the Texas Lunch that makes it so easy for Paco to assimilate?

Like the military, work at The Texas Lunch is very predictable, regimented and controlled. Few surprises, and a clear beginning and ending to the day and the tasks required. It also allows Paco to operate under the radar without much social interaction, and without much thought. He actually is enjoying himself. From the outside looking in, this is probably the ideal job for Paco.

3. What is the purpose of the dream sequences?

Jeez, these dream sequences. I had to go back and re-read to answer this one. Well, the narrator explains that Paco has never questioned "why me", so the ghosts of the fallen soldiers have taken it upon themselves to breathe a few suggestions into his subconscious state. What these dreams signify, I have no earthly clue. They are dark dreams...dreams of escaping an angry mob, dreams of panhandling, dreams of execution, dreams of leaving Vietnam whole and on his own two feet. I'm sure Freud would have had fun with the analysis, but my takeaway is that Paco is a disturbed soul. He maintains a stoic presence throughout the day, but his dreams are the true indication of his psyche.

4. Why do you think Ernest and Jesse are so forthcoming with their war stories, but Paco is not?

In the normal process of healing, it is always easier to talk about the tragedies in your life once you've put some time between yourself and the event in question. Ernest and Jesse have seen and lived the horrors of war, but they are in a different stage of the healing process. Paco's wounds are fresh. He still has constant pain, mentally and physically. I also think that Paco is suffering from survivor's guilt and his heavily weighed down by the fact that he was the only man amongst 93 to survive.

Next week will be the last week of our readalong, covering Chapters 6 and 7.


Serena said...

I agree that he must be having some kind of survivors guilt. The dream sequences are a bit overdone for me...I think some examples or pared down examples would have been enough to demonstrate Paco's disturbed psyche, but hey, that's just me.

There was a lot going on in this's probably why we decided to have that as a lone chapter for the week.

I think Anna will email you about "James" because I can't remember what our foreword said. If she doesn't I can get an email to you later this evening about it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really like the format of the readalong with the questions and answers. I usually don't like dream sequences, but I can see how it could illuminate the psyche of the protagonist.

Zibilee said...

The more I read about this book, the more I am intrigued and feel that I need to read it. It sounds like it's haunting in a lot of ways, and the fact that some of the plot is still so shrouded in mystery, even this far along is a really interesting thing to me. Great answers, Sandy! I will be interested in hearing how the last section goes!

Kathleen said...

I can't imagine being the only one to survive out of 93. I guess that would lead to some pretty deep survival guilt.

Anna said...

I don't have the book in front of me, but from what I remember from the foreword, "James" is like when someone addresses someone they don't know by name, like Jack or Joe or Charlie or whatever. Of course, Heinemann explains it more eloquently and he lists the names of various Jameses in his life and how they could be the James in the book.