For those of us who have never known war, there’s something chilling about the post-war experience of those who have. For all the bullet-dodging action heroes that Hollywood produces and America consumes, we rarely get a taste for the horrors that the scarred veteran must face upon return to the home-front. Even when a movie does try to convey that horror, it remains a visual experience.
Robert Cormier’s “Heroes” has no such problems. Francis, Cormier’s young protagonist, has been marred by war, and in the most visceral way. He’s lost his face to a grenade. He is unrecognizable, even by those who knew him well, and though cited for bravery, he hides a secret. As we read, we soon learn that he is not the only one. Unlike the gloss and gleam of Hollywood flicks, we are ensconced in Francis’ head, fully exposed to his pain and guilt, his regrets and hopes. It’s almost too close, and as the novel moves towards a final crushing denouement, we sense as much as we read, guessing and knowing the horrible truth before Cormier lets his protagonist reveal the chilling and even disturbing truth.
“Heroes” develops fast, and it is perhaps the parsimony of words that provides his story with such careful and pointed impact. Each word, section, and anecdote is calculated to one purpose only: the building of a story about a hero, and not just any, but one who is anything but what he seems.
I recommend the read, but because of content (nothing gratuitous or graphic, but merely the subject matter) suggest it for adolescents in their teens. I look forward to reading and discussing with my own children.