I saw Brian Turner speak for the second time when I saw him at the Hill Center (kudos to those folks for partnering with the Post‘s Ron Charles on this series). The first was when he read at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
I knew him as a poet, but My Life as a Foreign Country is very expressionistic memoir. More Jean Genet than Frank McCourt and more like Breton’s Amour Fou than any traditional prose book.
The book, about his time as a Marine in Iraq, grows progressively more disjointed and disturbing over its course, as if mapping the psychic damage and dislocation of a war without purpose nor end. It begins as an expressionistic, but still recognizable autobiographical form. Childhood. Parents. Why he joined the Marines. But fragments of his father’s military service, his grandfather’s, and even the Civil War appear. Incidents in Iraq are overlaid with nightmares and fears, before finally horror, memory, fear, mental illness, and reality merge, without the relief of Turner distinguishing them for the reader.