Banged out on a prison typewriter, Nico Walker’s CHERRY is an autobiographical novel about war, PTSD, addiction, and crime. I liked it a lot, from the staccato, brutalist prose to the depictions of combat during the occupation of Iraq.
The novel opens with a young man going nowhere fast, taking college classes, scoring and selling drugs, and working a part-time job. When he meets Emily, he falls madly in love, and marries her before shipping off to Iraq. While in Iraq, he goes out as a medic on one combat mission after another, dealing with boredom, terror, loneliness, and stupidity. On the way back, he learns about PTSD, and he and Emily end up hooked on hard drugs. As their money disappears, he turns to robbing banks.
Walker’s portrayal of his spiritually aimless and materially ambitionless protagonist is pretty compelling. There’s an almost Holden Caulfield quality to the guy and the raw honesty and explicit way he describes his screwups and the bad situations he finds himself in. However, while I appreciated it’s an autobiographical novel, some fictionalization would have been welcome because the novel, as in real life, becomes repetitious to the point of dull by the end, and there’s nothing really accomplished, learned, or tied up at the end.
Overall, I enjoyed the ride quite a bit if not the final destination. I give CHERRY an A for style and its raw freshness, B for story, C- for the last act and denouement.