Don’t Mean Nothing
Author: Susan O"Neill
Publisher: Serving House Books (2010)
Binding: Paperback, 252 pages
In this debut fiction collection--the first by a nurse who served in Viet Nam--Susan O'Neill offers a glimpse into the war from a female perspective. These stories are about women, and men, who served in three combat hospitals in 1969 and 1970. They are interconnected, peopled by one-time "stars" and recurring characters, and they deal both with both the minutia of everyday life in wartime, and grander, more over-reaching themes--love and loss, faith and despair, morality, futility, military idiosyncrasy, magic, and the cost to the soul of a year in war's very particular hell. The stories are purely fictional, yet based loosely on the author's experiences, and they are laced as liberally with black humor as with pathos.
2005 Gold Medal Award for Short Stories!
This Book Does Mean Something! Author Susan O’ Neill offers us some sensitive and insightful glimpses of the Vietnam War from a women’s point of view in her book of short stories called, “Don’t Mean Nothing.” Each story takes you to emotional places of the heart and the mind in some of the finest prose that any novelist has used since Hemmingway wrote his great books many decades ago. Her female energy transcends all that macho testosterone of war and delivers story after story with both feeling and at times, some very profound thoughts.
These stories use the nurses and hospitals and the war as a background but it is the power of each story that is what this book is all about. I was really touched after reading one particular one called “Prometheus Burned.” Being a macho guy, I will not admit publicly that I might have gotten some moist eyes, but I will admit that I was certainly moved by how she creates a mood and a certain poetic rhythm through her choice of phrasing. Her artistic use of some of the lyrics from that old spiritual song “Amazing Grace” really enhanced the emotional impact I was getting from this story.
This book showcases the writing talents of Susan O’Neil. I am disappointed to learn that this is her only book in print to this date. She obviously has a gift that needs to be shared. This book will get inside your head and you may either become saddened, or inspired by her words of the spirit. She holds the reader’s hand like a nurse might in triage just before you have a bullet removed from your heart–this book is not for emotional sissies. It is mature, compassionate and at times boldly frank. It feels real and suggests to me that some of these experiences might reflect what the author may have experienced or felt herself in Vietnam, as a nurse so many long years ago.
A must read! Do not get turned off by some of the harsh language in the Introduction; but go deeper inside the book’s pages and discover some real literary gold under an emotional and spiritual rainbow of words! Trust me on this—Susan O’Neill can write with any of the great ones! You will find it a worth while reading experience, even if it may emotionally hold you hostage for a while after you finally finish the book. It is a great book that may make you think, feel, and sense things about life, about war, and about people that may be new to you. That is the sign of a well written story and she has many to share.
Reviewed by: Bill McDonald (2005)