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Reviewed by Michael Gardner for Readers' Favorite
Sitting somewhere between the great American short story and the great American novel, Grunts, Gramps & Tanks by Rick Bogdan is a series of connected short stories about Tyler Willett and his time serving in the U.S. Army, taking us from enlisting through to his eventual rise as an officer in the armored division. It reminded me very much of the Nick Adams series of short stories by Hemingway, which each describe a key moment in the character’s life. These slices of life aren’t always monumental, but they are moments of change, which makes them interesting to read. Grunts, Gramps & Tanks also follows the same distinctive modern American style started by writers like Hemingway, with sparse, gritty, descriptive writing which focuses more on mundane events than grand action. Mundane does not equate to uninteresting. Who knew what these men had to do to get paid in 1975? Imagine doing a forced march on three hours sleep with a filthy hangover. And underpinning every moment is Willett’s struggle to maintain his family through his sea change from the retail industry to becoming an army infantryman.
Although anecdotal, the charming aspect of Grunts, Gramps & Tanks is the variety in each story. Some build to a witty moment. Others are bittersweet. None paint an idealized view of army life or the stress it puts on maintaining a family. Rick Bogdan shows genuine passion in his storytelling, I expect from personal experience, rendering each account without judgment, bias, or blinkered patriotism. He leaves it to the reader to form an opinion about the moments in Willett’s life, which I feel is the mark of a confident author. The effort that has gone into the shaping and polishing of the book is also evident, as it’s a smooth, engaging read. Overall, a very polished piece. Recommended.