Former Marine and current college writing instructor Matt Young relives his grueling Marine training and his three deployments to Iraq in this searing memoir. His months in the desert are a fever dream of fiendish insects, extreme temperatures, tedium and terror.
Young enlists in the Marines without much forethought, walking into a strip mall recruitment center after drunkenly crashing his car, drawn to the belief that “the only way to change is the self-flagellation achieved by signing up for war.” He leaves behind his “broken and distant” family and a young fiancée who is just heading off to college. He, at 18, is also just a kid.
For the most part, Young sidesteps any direct judgment of the war, but his writing makes clear the toll the war took on him personally. Young describes a tumbling Humvee that hits an improvised explosive device; a liquor-soaked 96-hour leave during which he struggles to talk to his family about anything other than combat; shooting dogs while on patrol, then being haunted by that act. “It’s important to remember our boredom and lack of sleep and anger and sadness and youth and misunderstanding and loneliness and hate,” Young writes.
And that is the uncompromising essence of Eat the Apple: Young is unflinching, even slightly removed as he examines the most brutally personal moments of his years in service. Sometimes he writes in the first person, sometimes in the second. He incorporates sketches of his body along with self-diagnoses of his physical and psychic pain, which are insightful rather than self-indulgent. And he pays tribute to those he served with, including those who came home broken or didn’t come home at all: “We didn’t die, but there are those who did, and regardless of who they were as men they should be remembered.”