"Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails: A Memoir," by Anthony Swofford (Twelve)
Anthony Swofford is tough to like in his new memoir, "Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails," his searing account of life after the unmitigated success of his first book, "Jarhead."
In that 2003 book, "Swoffie" revealed himself to readers as the U.S. Marine Corps sniper with the heart of a poet. In his second memoir, "Tone" — as his dad calls him — is more complicated, more flawed, more human. With his newfound notoriety and a bigger bank account, the author marries, divorces, spends lavishly on drugs and booze, and jumps in and out of women's beds with gusto reserved for only the most swashbuckling among us. Throughout these exploits, he continues his struggle to accept his brother's premature death and, more centrally, his troubled relationship with his father, who's slowly dying of lung disease.
Swofford's prose remains as strong as ever. And his insights into his own past and present strike an honest chord: "I know a bit about shame. My father built a roof of shame for his family to live under. You do not shame your father with stupidity in public. You do not shame your father by asking stupid questions. … This shame turned me into a treacherous little kid."
But reading Swofford's overly detailed explanations to criticism leveled against him by his father — in the form of scathing letters — begins to wear, leaving the reader wondering if such specificity might be better suited for a therapist's couch.
In the end, when the solution to most, if not all, of Swofford's woes is the love of a good woman and the joy of fatherhood, it feels somewhat pat — or perhaps it's just plain romantic. He recounts a conversation with his "happy and stable" friend, Danny: '"Dude. Christa will have your baby and then you will have the knowledge. Capital K. You will see that baby girl and you will understand. Capital U. And you will know it is that simple."'
So, after years of nearly losing himself in complicated, Swofford chooses simple — and it works for him. "I am a husband and I am a father. This is my life now and this is how I live," he writes.
And readers cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief.