It was a thing that I noticed over the course of my own military service that generally American youth changed more radically between the age of 18 and 25 than at any other time of their life save that span between infant and kindergartner. Or at least, that portion of it that chooses to join the military does. Such people enlist and trundle off to boot camp and their first duty assignment – they are kids; impetuous, ruled by impulse and mad urges to indulge in all kinds of attractive bad things … but somehow over the course of that rocky journey, the largest portion grow into mature, focused and relatively well-adjusted adults. Serious obligations and sometimes life-threatening experiences – such as serving at the very pointy end of the spear that is America’s military – have that effect.
Which is a round-about way of saying that Samuel Finlay’s Breakfast With the Dirt Cult is an account of that progression, told through the experience of one Tom Walton – a young guy from Oklahoma who has had a hitch in Bosnia under his belt and now is headed with his unit to Afghanistan. Tom has the advantage of being a conscientious and thoughtful sort, as well as being rather well-read – not all that rare among enlisted military members, I will add. The plot is relatively simple; while on-leave from Fort Drum, he meets and falls heavily for Amy – who is working as a stripper, but is also uncommonly well-read. His affection for Amy is an anchor holding him more or less steady through Afghanistan, assuming responsibility for comparatively inexperienced troops, being wounded in a fire-fight there and through painful convalescence, but there is no conventional happy ending, only stubborn ambivalence, as Tom essentially grows into maturity. This is a very readable, sharply-observed, and literate account of life in the current Army, if at times it does verge into polemics.
Be advised, as an exposition of contemporary life in a front-line unit this is also brutally frank about the warts of military service; the boredom as well as the excitement, the dust, bad-language, excessive drinking and all. At the grunt or ‘Joe-level’ the prevailing sense of humor is very, very dark, politically incorrect, usually lavatorial, and frequently obscene. This may come as a shock to non-veterans – but it shouldn’t. It always has been that way.
Breakfast With the Dirt Cult is available on Amazon in Kindle edition. (Disclosure - I received a review copy from the author.)