(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)
Kayla William's Love My Rifle More Than You opens with a bang: “Sometimes, even now, I wake up before dawn and forget I am not a slut.”
Now that’’s a first sentence.
And the first two chapters are--aside from a few language issues--about as perfect as two first chapters can be. It is a collage-style meditation on being “young and female in the US Army”, a series of anecdotes, joke, scenes and clips of dialogue thrown into a big old pot, making a delicious literary stew. It reminded me of Herr’s Dispatches or O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. When I reached page eighteen, I wrote in my notes, "Man, I love this book. I hope the whole thing is a series of non-chronological stories like this one."
You probably know where this is going. After a brilliant title, opening sentence, and first two chapters, Love My Rifle More Than You goes seriously down hill. Part of the problem, like Exum’s This Man’s Army (review pending), is the book doesn’t have anywhere to go. It takes Williams eighty pages to get to Iraq, and there isn’t much to do once she gets there, except complain about everyone else. This is an argument for fiction writing; you can make the plot up if real life gets too boring.
I liked some sections, like when Williams comes across a field of unexploded ordnance and struggles to explain it to the locals, or when her team encounters locals waving dead white chickens at her passing convoy. Her prose is mostly uncensored--completely passing the litmus test--writing about eating, shitting, sex, political context, dead animals, and political context. In the second to last chapter, she knowledgeably writes about interrogation and prisoner abuses.
In between the bright spots, there is way too much down time, which leads to petty disagreements. Williams fueds with Staff Sergeant Moss, the sergeant who replaces her, Staff Sergeant Simmons, her Lieutenant, Quinn, her Battalion Commander, her ex-boyfriend, and most of the guys from the COLT (Combat Observation and Lasing Team) unit she hangs out with. You get the idea. (This isn't all bad. Williams has a level of self-reflection not found in other memoirs. Read the comment thread below for more.)
And then we come to the hypocrisy. At the beginning, Williams describes a girl, “No rumor. Truth” who gave oral sex to every guy in her unit. At the end of the book, Williams describes the gossip that goes around, that girls on the Prophet team--part of a signal intelligence unit--”give it up”. The problem is that midway through the book Williams becomes a victim of this type of rumor mongering. Why doesn’t she give the same benefit of doubt to her fellow Soldiers that the COLT team should have given to her?
Other annoying language issues and basic punctuation mistakes scattered throughout Love My Rifle More Than You mar the prose. Also, on the title page, Michael Staub’s name appears. Apparently this poor guy was the memoir’s ghostwriter, or co-writer, or who knows what. His name is absent from the cover, the inside covers, and the back cover, like a ghostly human typo. As a writer, I feel bad for the guy.
The million dollar question: should you read Love My Rifle More Then You? Maybe. Find the first two chapters and inhale them. They belong in the anthology of post-9/11 war writing. But outside of that, I would say skip it.