This is a book that has remained among my Top 10 since I first read it in about 1987 or so (it was originally published in 1983). I really can't say enough about it, and while I recognize that war novels are not to everyone's taste, I have long encouraged everyone I know to read it, even if it takes them out of their comfort zone. It's one of those novels that transcends its genre. It is, quite simply, a classic--or at least, it deserves to be. And yet, so few people have ever heard of it, or of its author, Stephen Wright. He is not very prolific; his novels don't get a lot of popular press and aren't picked up for movie deals; and honestly, his style is a little outside the mainstream to be really accessible.
But, let me give you three reasons why, if you haven't ever heard of it or of Wright, you should consider checking out Meditations In Green
1) Wright employs some of the most beautiful language and wordplay I've ever read to describe some of the most horrific images you will ever see rendered in print. I am trying to find a quotation that does justice, but it's kind of like quoting Dylan: it's ALL quotable, and it's very difficult to excerpt and retain the power of the whole piece, which needs to wash over you. Sometimes, it's what he says directly; sometimes it's the structure of long, run-on sentences as insidious and dense as the jungle, or short machine-gun wordbursts that puncture the page. His prose sweeps you up in its rhythm until you can actually feel your blood pressure rise in response. Sometimes, it's how he develops a scene and then ends abruptly with an unwritten thought--it's what is implied, not what is written, that is so powerful. This writing is so alive,
it can be no less than a raging condemnation of the death and destruction it describes.
2) The central character is a PTSD-afflicted Vietnam veteran who was responsible for targeting areas for Agent Orange attack, and who now is going slowly (or quickly) crazy in an apartment in NYC (? -- some cement jungle, in counterpoint to the real one he's left half a world away). Chapters of him at work and at war in Vietnam; and him descending into the streets of the city and further into drug-induced madness back in the 'world' are interspersed with the meditations: very short chapters told from the point of view of a houseplant. Yes, really. It's a brilliantly-employed conceit. Nature, growth, life juxtaposed with madness, death and destruction.
3) Wright brings the hallucinogenic atrocity of Vietnam to life in detail and creates a testament to the insanity not just of that war, but of all wars. IMHO, it is the finest anti-war novel since [book: Johnny Got His Gun] by [author: Dalton Trumbo]. It bears some stylistic similarity to JGHG, but it is entirely Wright's own unique, wonderful, horrendous and magnificent creation.
The language and images in this novel are vivid, brutal, obscene and graphic. If you are easily offended by vulgarity, well--you'll be offended. But if you find unjust wars even more offensive, then I would encourage you to keep in mind that the last thing an anti-war novel should do is leave you feeling comfortable, or worry about offending the sensitive reader. Bravo to Wright and to all who refuse to sanitize or glorify war, and who use language appropriately to describe that which is truly obscene.