Larry Heinemann

Larry Heinemann (born 1944) is an American novelist born and raised in Chicago. His body of work--three novels and a memoir--is primarily concerned with the Vietnam War. Heinemann served a combat tour as a conscripted draftee in Viet Nam from 1967 to 1968 with the 25th Infantry Division, and has described himself as the most ordinary of soldiers. Heinemann's prose style is blunt and straightforward, reflecting his working class background. His second and critically acclaimed novel is Paco's Story (1986), which won the 1987 National Book Award for Fiction, topping Toni Morrison's Beloved in a decision that some thought controversial. Other critics and essayists thought the award appropriate and well deserved. At the time, Heinemann's only response to the controversy was that the prize, a check for $10,000, was already cashed, and that the Louise Nevelson sculpture, a gift from the National Book Foundation, was not likely to be returned. Paco's Story relates the postwar experiences of its protagonist haunted by the ghosts of his dead comrades who provide the novel's distinctive narrative voice. The story deals with the seemingly contradictory and morally ambiguous role of the soldier as both victimizer and victim. It is interesting to note that ghost stories are common in both American and Vietnamese literature about the war.

His third novel, Cooler by the Lake (1992), is a comic story about Chicago, and deals with the awful trouble a petty thief gets into when he attempts to return a wallet with 8 $100 bills in it to the rightful owner. Thematically lighter than his first novels, it was less positively received.

Heinemann's military experiences are documented in his most recent work, Black Virgin Mountain (2005), a memoir. The book chronicles his several return trips to Vietnam and his personal and political views concerning the country and the war. He has often referred to his two war novels and the memoir as an accidental trilogy.

Heinemann's short stories and non-fiction have appeared in many magazines and numerous anthologies.

Vietnam War Writers