Keep Your Head Down: A Memoir

Keep Your Head Down: A Memoir

by Doug Anderson
     
 

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An award-winning poet highlights the vibrant history of his generation in a farewell to Vietnam, the chaotic sixties, and their long aftermath.
“We tend to write about what will not go away,” Doug Anderson says in this candid, darkly humorous journey of self-discovery. Beginning in 1943, in the pre–civil rights South filled with tobacco and war

Overview

An award-winning poet highlights the vibrant history of his generation in a farewell to Vietnam, the chaotic sixties, and their long aftermath.
“We tend to write about what will not go away,” Doug Anderson says in this candid, darkly humorous journey of self-discovery. Beginning in 1943, in the pre–civil rights South filled with tobacco and war stories, he recalls the difficult childhood that propels him into service in Vietnam. In 1967, having returned home deeply shaken by his experience as a combat medical corpsman, Anderson plunges into the heady freedoms and excesses of the sixties. His downward spiral—through booze, substance abuse, and sex—brings him dangerously close to a total breakdown. Finally, in a return group visit to Vietnam in 2000, he meets with former enemies now become writers and poets. Moved by the realization that “the last time I saw these people they were trying to kill me,” Anderson confronts the past and calls upon a story—this powerful story—to rebuild a life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire) has led an amazing life-before, during and after his 1967-1968 tour of duty as a navy corpsman with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. He has been a jazz drummer, a playwright, an actor, an alcoholic and son of an alcoholic, a college dropout, a college instructor, a drug abuser, a PTSD sufferer and a poet. In his first book of nonfiction, Anderson tells his story in inviting, poetic prose. He begins with his dysfunctional childhood in Memphis, then offers an evocative depiction of his service in Vietnam, which included a firefight on his first day in the field and more than his share of closely observed horror. He shows the hell of war as he went through it. Only in recent years did Anderson stop drinking, find meaningful work as a poet and teacher, marry and make a life-changing trip back to Vietnam in 2000. Yet what Anderson dubs "Snakebrain" (the demons inside him) remains a part of him. His beautifully told story is one of redemption, but also one without a happy ending. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
Middling memoir of the bad old days of booze, acid and shrapnel. Call me Snakebrain. So poet Anderson (Creative Writing/Univ. of Connecticut Greater Hartford) dubs the "second self that lies dormant until he's needed" that somehow hitched a ride on his psyche while serving in Vietnam. He arrived there in 1967 and served as a Marine medic in combat "against the tough and committed Communist Vietcong and NVA." Before the war, he writes, he did all the usual things of the early '60s-pondering inequality and injustice, signing up for college, flunking ROTC, hanging out with young radicals in coffeehouses and listening to folk singers. During the war, he dodged mortar shells and bullets, smoked dope and listened to Hendrix-the stuff, in other words, of countless memoirs and nearly every Vietnam movie ever filmed. Anderson writes competently if formulaically-"I don't know anything either, apart from the masks I use to cover my fear"-but there's not a surprising moment at any turn in the narrative. Even the closing, when he returns with other writer veterans to workshop with the erstwhile enemy, is predictable down to the last note ("So much of my life is a blur. The war years are veiled in fear and confusion"). The author's rigorously honest account of his postwar return to college life and the development of various addictions as manifestations of trauma-"Pot loosens the flak jacket and I float where I don't want to"-will be of use to students of psychology, counselors and other mental-health professionals. Those readers have their hands full treating veterans of latter-day conflicts, but Snakebrain makes for an oddly fascinating subject. Most readers will want to turn to more deeply feltbooks about the era, including Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War (1977), Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam (1994) and Peter Coyote's Sleeping Where I Fall (1998).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393350135
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
07/01/2009
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,239,125
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.65(d)

Meet the Author

Doug Anderson, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, teaches at the University of Connecticut Greater Hartford Campus and lives in Hartford.

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