American Sniper

I read this looking for insight into the author, a SEAL sniper credited with more than 150 confirmed kills in Iraq during four tours of duty. I’m curious about the skill and detachment it takes to perform such a job well. And I wanted to find out for myself whether Chris Kyle was the right-wing authoritarian throwback nightmare he was painted in some of the – admittedly ‘liberal’ – publications I tend to read.

Well, there’s not a lot of insight. What there is tends to come from the comments of his wife, inserted at various stages throughout the book. She’s able to express her innermost thoughts well. Chris Kyle (and his co-authors) aren’t. Their prose is flat, declarative and unemotional. It’s also written in short chunks that seldom go beyond one page.

This makes reading the book like listening to someone recounting what he did as he remembers it, and then making no attempt to mould the recollections into a compelling narrative. We did this. We did that. Then we did this. We used these weapons. It was hot. It smelled bad. When we’d finished this mission, we went on another… There’s no build-up, no rhythm, no momentum. It’s one thing after another in what amounts to a literary monotone and this made it (for me, at least) really difficult to read. I say ‘for me’ because the book has been a massive best-seller (and currently has over 15,500 reviews on Amazon alone). There are obviously a lot of people out there who didn’t find it hard to read.

But I did read it. And I have to say that Chris Kyle doesn’t come across as the murderous jerk some writers painted him to be. What we get is a picture of an honest man who knows who he is, what he believes in and what he wants. Actually, that last sentence should all be in the past tense, because Kyle was murdered by a former Marine with PTSD he was trying to help. I wish he’d lived to describe how he’d made the move from detached killer to involved helper. That’s a story I would really like to read.

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