I went and read something outside my normal PNR, YA, fantasy mold. I was inspired by the movie American Sniper to read the book it was “based on”. And I am reminded why I try not to read stuff that is not fiction and why I don’t like movies “based on” true events. The movies never come even remotely close to the truth. And unfortunately, here, I was reminded of why I like autobiographies even less then just your general non-fiction. Autobiographies are written by folks who (often) aren’t writers by trade and so without a lot of help from other writers or editors, you might not end up with something that is written very well. Even more unfortunately, American Sniper by Chris Kyle seems to be a textbook example of this.
I really, really wanted to like this book. Before I get virtually assaulted by all those out there that loved this – please know that my review of the book has zero, yes ZERO, correlation to the politics of the war or my thoughts on Chris Kyle the Navy SEAL. I think, regardless of his politics or the politics of the War, he was willing to lay his life down for his fellow soldiers (I am using the term to generically refer to all military personnel) and all Americans and for that he should be respected, supported and honored. Each and every member of the US military, fighting for the rest of us, is a hero to me. And I am happy to tell them that every chance I get (and wish there were better ways to show them too).
Instead, what I am saying is that for a book that had two other “writers” helping, this was an awfully written book. It was so hard to read. It was choppy, filled with terrible grammar, run-on sentences, time-lines that were hard to follow, inconsistent levels of description (and I don’t mean that he went light on details that might be classified – that’s totally ok with me; what I mean is that it was hard to paint mental pictures because in some cases I get so many details the story he is telling gets bogged down while in others, he might as well have just said “I went to Iraq and killed people. The end.”) especially with respect to the settings. The picture could have been painted so I pictured more of what a town looked like, even in general terms, but sometimes we got that and sometimes we didn’t. Oh and did I mention the atrocious grammar and the resulting writing style?
I wasn’t expecting Pulitzer Prize winning stuff. It was an autobiography. But when I realized that there were two other’s credited, one of which has written a fair amount of other stuff, I expected more. They should have done so much more, they could have done so much more, to make this more readable. The repetitive nature of some of the little details left me wondering on more than one occasion if I lost my place and was rereading something by accident. I was so disappointed, it was a long read. I really wish that the writers who were assisting Chris had done more to make this something that was written better.
I am not going to comment on the story, per se, because it’s not fiction. So there isn’t really much to critique from a story development perspective. Sure, we could hash things out over story choice a little. Or we could criticize the amount of detail in some of the stories. But in the end, it was his story to tell and I was left with a profound sense of sadness knowing that someone who sacrificed so much for his country and fellow soldiers won’t be around to watch his children grown up.
What I will note is that the book made me angry. Again, not because he was a little prejudiced (so many people are and I am sure being in the War, seeing all that he saw and experiencing all that he experienced probably lead to him making some of the broad categorizations of those he was fighting – never having been through what he went through I refuse to judge him for those comments or choices of words) and certainly not because he believed in following orders, doing his job and protecting fellow soldiers. And it wasn’t that it is propaganda (don’t get me wrong, propaganda is a part of politics but I don’t fault the book for that because it was propaganda written by a soldier telling his story and if that is propaganda to folks, then so be it). No, I was angry because I saw the movie then read the book. And I was left wondering why oh why did Hollywood butcher the story? Was he not heroic enough? Was his willingness to give his life for fellow soldiers not enough to honor? Why did Hollywood need to craft such a different story and change so many major details? I am truly disappointed. Comparing fiction like Divergent to its movie is one thing. I can hate the adaptation but when all is said and done they are still both works of fiction. From the American Sniper official movie site: “From director Clint Eastwood comes “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, whose skills as a sniper made him a hero on the battlefield. But there was much more to him than his skill as a sharpshooter…Oscar-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Unforgiven”) directed “American Sniper” from a screenplay written by Jason Hall, based on the book by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. The autobiography was a runaway bestseller, spending 18 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, 13 of those at number one.” Ok – it doesn’t exactly explicitly say “the true story of Chris Kyle”. But the tag line, “The most lethal sniper in U.S. History” and all the press certainly implies that it was closer to real than fiction. And for one of the review lines that the site is touting to be “Clint Eastwood has realized the full potential of thais riveting story”… well, I expected the book to mirror the movie. And I am not mad at the book – as that was the true story. Instead, I feel cheated out of the additional wonders that could have been on screen had the movie stuck to the book better.
The thing that I think this book did do well was show how important soldiers are to one another. It helped explain some of the brotherhood that comes from being on a battlefield together. It also put me through a range of emotions as I read about all the things he saw and was a part of. I think that a movie deserved to be made out of this story – but I wish it was actually of this story. And I wish the story was written better. Because it was better than what was written here.