This book was written after a Buzzfeed article detailing Nico Walker’s life (soldier in Iraq, has PTSD, comes home gets hooked on heroin, starts robbing banks to fuel heroin habit, goes to jail) piqued the interest of a book editor, who began pursuing him to write a book. So this is basically a fictionalized version of Walker’s own story. Which is one of the problems I have with it. Where is the line between fiction and non-fiction? What is real and what is made up? And does it matter?
Those can be interesting questions to consider, but I found the whole thing very frustrating, precisely because the narrator of this book was supremely unlikeable, basically a narcissistic, nihilistic black hole of a person. And how much of that is real? How much was a deliberate character choice on Walker’s part, to prove his literary point? Is anything made up at all? Because it changes my opinion completely, if all of this was deliberate: the emptiness of his character, the lack of anything resembling reflection, the misogyny (quite honestly the misanthropy). The way the book is written, the narrator comes off as a guy who believes nothing has any meaning at all, and people are not really people to him. He’s this way before he goes to war. He says he loves his girlfriend, that he’s in love with her and never loved anything more, but the reasons he goes on to list for why he loves her are that she swears a lot, and that she really lets him fuck her, and she fucks him right back.
Those are not character traits, that is not personality, those are not reasons to love something. It makes me question whether the narrator is even capable of love at all.
He joins the army for no reason at all, and witnesses horrific things, that also seem to prove his point that nothing has any meaning. One second he’ll be saying something witty and insightful, the next he’s saying nothing at all. If all of it was deliberate, it’s well done. But if it’s not, and there’s no reflection going on here, I have a very different view on that.
But ultimately what it comes down to is this isn’t my kind of book. I did not like reading it, although talking about it with my book club was interesting. Lots of things to break down: war, the opioid crisis, disaffection, white male privilege, addiction, psychology.
I’d say if literary fiction, satire, and black comedy are your thing, you may like this book a lot better than I did. (And that’s if all of the above was deliberate. If it wasn’t, this is just a very sad view into something that actually happened.) And it’s really not about robbing banks at all. If anything this is a book about the Iraq war, and about addiction.