Faculty Research at Morehead State University


Between the Wars: Stephen Wright’s The Amalgamation Polka and Meditations in Green


Layne Neeper

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Stephen Wright, author of four critically acclaimed novels, is by sheer dint of personal experience perhaps one of a small coterie best situated among contemporary American novelists to address, as he has in his first and last novels, the topic of war. As a veteran of the Vietnam War where he served in military intelligence as an “image interpreter” of aerial reconnaissance photography, Wright has been a first-person witness to both the mundane and horrific events of a nation at war. Unlike, however, say, Tim O’Brien who has been lastingly labeled—rightly or wrongly—as a “Vietnam writer,” Wright has managed to elude constrictive tags, in no small way through conscious effort. Although he has written what several consider to be the definitive novel about Vietnam with Meditations in Green (1983), he has not limited himself to that experience. When interviewed, Wright has maintained, “I’m really very, very fortunate that I did not have to spend the rest of my life being a Vietnam veteran, because there are way too many people doing that. That’s their life.”1 Wright is no doubt acknowledging his gratitude for escaping the post-war ravages of psychological trauma suffered by so many, but his statement also indicates, I think, his unwillingness to pigeonhole himself as an artist as the chronicler of one particular war; writing and re-writing about that war has become the sole preoccupation of so many novelists and poets who endured it. His oeuvre affirms his dedication to an eclectic vision, in that M31: A Family Romance (1988) explores the bizarre world of UFO cultists in the 168 War, Literature & the Arts American heartland and Going Native (1994) delivers a postmodern tour de force representing Debord’s “society of the spectacle” at century’s end. With his latest work, The Amalgamation Polka (2006), Wright again returns to the subject of war, but this time it is the American Civil War that arrests both his attention and our own.