Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
Anthony Swofford
Hotels, Hospitals and Jails
Twelve / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-455-50673-6
Publication Date: 06-05-2012
278 Pages; $26.99
Date Reviewed:07-01-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index  Non-Fiction  

Anthony Swofford's first book, 'Jarhead,' brought him the literary equivalent of the Triple Crown. He received critical acclaim, it was a best seller and it was adapted into a major motion picture by Hollywood that also achieved critical acclaim. His follow-up, the novel 'Exit A' was well-enough received, but did not get the Triple Crown. Still, Swofford, both an ex-Marine and a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, was seriously wealthy. A trip with his father in an RV was meant to help them reconcile, but it had more of the opposite effect. 'Hotels, Hospitals and Jails,' gives a pretty good idea of where he went next.

Swofford's new memoir is intense even if the only battlefields he traverses are those afforded by family and friends. Those prove to be quite deadly enough to the young man who was suddenly swimming in money. 'Hotels, Hospitals and Jails' is about as jangled as the nerves of the man who lived it. Swofford is all over the map as he glosses past his many assignations, his drinking and drug abuse and hones in on the relationship that seems to be at the core of his melting world. For all the dissolution that money can buy, and it's a lot, nothing can match the way our parents brought us up in terms of messing us up. 'Hotels, Hospitals and Jails' are all places other than home.

As we watch Swofford's world go to hell, he brings us into the two-character play at the core of this memoir; himself and his father, John Howard Swofford. The elder Swofford was a vet as well, of Vietnam, and the experience didn't do him any favors. Upon his return from Vietnam, John Howard turned down the chance for psychological help, as if he were pulling the wool over the eyes of a watchful nanny. In retrospect, his son thinks, his father probably should have sought help. The memories that Anthony Swofford explores; his own childhood, the death of his older brother, whose funeral his father did not attend, "curse letters" sent to Anthony by his father, and a belated, ungainly attempt to "pal around" with his son as if they were friends, do not make for comfortable reading. But it's classic, well-written American family drama, complete with a list of chores from hell.

Swofford tells his stories in a variety of fashions; straight-ahead memoir, tit-for-tat letters, anecdotes in and out of chronological order. The prose is clean and strong. It's a manly book about the not-so-hot relationships that men, stunted both by the expectations of family and society, manage to form with one another and with the women in their lives. It's not like we grow up and mature by the reasonable age of say, twenty-five. It's quite possible to kick the bucket and still be acting like a teenager. But it is not necessary.

'Hotels, Hospitals and Jails' eschews self-pity and is pretty moderate so far as self-laceration goes. Swofford offers up the fact of his life, including his emotions, in a terse narrative bracketed around two RV trips with this father. This is not to say that everything turns out hunky dory. But that muscular prose takes us on a journey that has its own iconic power, as Swofford learns to see himself and his father as humans, with frailties and faults that can hold you back — or be overcome, sometimes. 'Hotels, Hospitals and Jails' do not at first seem to be desirable destinations. They are not the usual endpoint of the Hero's Journey. The joy of Swofford's story is that heroes can be revealed to be human, but no less heroic.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us