Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paco's Story Readalong - Week 4

This is the fourth and final post on the readalong for Paco's Story. I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing this reading experience with Anna and Serena, our hosts, and the rest of the participants. The questions certainly gave me pause, and provoked musings that would not have been considered otherwise. The last two chapters of the book were the darkest by far, enough to make me squirm and get an ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach.

1. What is the significance of the rape scene? How does it change your opinion of Paco?

As Paco sits in his apartment listening to his neighbor, Cathy, have noisy sex with her boyfriend, he flashes back to an event in Vietnam, where the infamous Gallagher (nasty fellow, he) decides to rape a local girl. This is a horrible, graphic scene that is not for the light-hearted. In this flashback, not only does Gallagher abuse the girl, but the entire platoon participates, and ends with the girl's death. Paco recognizes the beginning of the end, the evil in this act, but doesn't make any gestures to walk away or speak up on the girl's behalf. I found myself greatly saddened and disappointed in Paco. I recognize it is not the culture to speak up, especially when pack mentality is present, but I didn't really want to be privy to these details.

I can only guess to the significance of this scene. Perhaps Paco is only now allowing himself to recognize the evil in himself, or that his viewpoint towards sex has been permanently altered. I found it revealing that Paco only recalled the rape scene while listening to Cathy's sexual antics.

2. Cathy’s diary plays an integral role in Paco’s final decision. Why do you think it has such a drastic impact?

Hasn't Paco ever been taught that you should never read someone else's diary unless you are strong enough to handle what is written inside? While Paco knows that Cathy has a boyfriend, he's imagined an attraction between them, and maybe some tiny bit of hope they might connect. This is only the first or second ray of light for Paco, that hint of a normal life to come.

Paco discovers though the diary that Cathy WAS initially attracted to him, but over time, exposure to his scars and his disabilities caused this to change. In fact, her opinion of Paco was horribly cruel. Was this meant to be representative of how all civilians view Vietnam Veterans? I hope not. No human should ever have to read those things about themselves. It made me angry. This was the sign to Paco that there was no future for him in this town. He was probably right, but this insensitive tramp was not worth Paco's angst.
Obviously Paco was more fragile than I had imagined.

3. What are some of the similarities between Vietnam and Boone, Texas? Differences?

From everything I've read, Vietnam, while horrible, also provided bonding and brotherhood that can be once in a lifetime. In fact, many men found themselves longing for it after they returned home, unable to find that same closeness in the day-to-day drudgery. In Vietnam there were also few rules in which to abide, and there was a constant source of adrenaline. It is no wonder that our men had issues with the transition.

I'm not so sure about the similarities, except for the presence of good and evil.

4. Were you satisfied with the ending? What are your overall impressions of the book?

This was an incredibly dark view of one man's life after Vietnam, of humanity, and of the United States that our veterans faced when they returned. It isn't a pleasant book, but is one I will remember for a long time. In fact, it is one that has the potential to rattle around in my brain forever.

Was I satisfied with the ending? This is a trick question, and my answer has to be both yes and no. The ending is realistic and not the least bit sugar-coated. But it also filled me with extreme sadness and hopelessness. I suppose I should have more confidence in Paco's ability to rebound and survive, but wouldn't we imagine that Boone, Texas is just a microcosm of our country as a whole? Will Paco find peace and normalcy in another town? I'm not sure about that. It may be decades before he finds what he is looking for.

4.5 out of 5 stars


Serena said...

I'm so glad that this powerful story has hit a chord with many of the participants. Despite its graphic nature, which I think is necessary, this is a commentary not only on Vietnam, but also the society these soldier's returned to...there were no celebrations like after WWII...they were simply looked at with pity and distaste. How does one go about finding their place in that kind of world?!

Serena said...

BTW, thanks for participating.

Anna said...

Thanks for taking part in the discussion. It definitely is a book that stays with you for a long time. I first read this about 11 years ago, and I still can't forget that rape scene. And while it changed my opinion of Paco somewhat, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him after reading Cathy's diary.

Darlene said...

From everything I've read this sounds like such a powerful story but honestly I doubt I could make it through the darkness. I know it's reality but for me I have to be in the right frame of mind to make it through a book like this. I'm glad you all made managed to finish up the book.

Zibilee said...

Wow! This does indeed sound very dark! I still think that I want to read it, I think I am just going to have to wait for a good time. Great set of reviews/answers Sandy!

Kathleen said...

Sounds like a tough read but it does offer a perspective that is valuable. I've always thought that for most Vietnam Vets, the "coming home" experience was more negative than positive.

Jules said...

Her opinion of Paco made me want to slap her. She was overly cruel. And I think you have something there, I think a lot of those back home, thought illy towards the soldiers, which looking back, is a horrible thought.

I think a lot of us feel, that the ending is both a yes and a no, on whether we liked it or not. Some interesting thoughts.

Alice said...

I bought this book and 2 other Vietnam war books (CLOSE QUARTERS and THE THINGS THEY CARRIED). I've been following your Paco's posts and I am totally sold on reading it. I've just finished GIRL, INTERRUPTED and wants to read this next.