An American Requiem is the story of one man's coming of age. But more than that, it is a coming to terms with the conflicts that disrupted many families, inflicting personal wounds that were also social, political, and religious. Carroll grew up in a Catholic family that seemed blessed. His father had abandoned his own dream of becoming a priest to rise through the ranks of Hoover's FBI and then become one of the most powerful men in the Pentagon, the founder of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Young Jim lived the privileged life of a general's son, dating the daughter of a vice president and meeting the pope, all in the shadow of nuclear war, waiting for the red telephone to ring in his parents' house. He worshiped his father until Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, turmoil in the Catholic Church, and then Vietnam combined to outweigh the bond between father and son. These were issues on which they would never agree. Only after Carroll left the priesthood to become a writer and husband with children of his own did he come to understand fully the struggles his father had faced. In this work of nonfiction, the best-selling novelist draws on the skills he honed with nine much-admired novels to tell the story he was, literally, born to tell. An American Requiem is a benediction on his father's life, his family's struggles, and the legacies of an entire generation.
If the Civil War pitted brother against brother, the Vietnam War is best understood as pitting father against son. Some of Vietnam's longest lasting battles were fought in heavy rages and even heavier silences across the dinner table. James Carroll is a veteran of many such skirmishes. A novelist now, this book is his story of what it was like to be an anti-war priest in the '60s while his father was an Air Force general deeply involved in Pentagon planning. What makes the book particularly moving is that Carroll comes to realize that his father is no mono-dimensional saber-rattler (indeed, he suspects that his father's military career came to its sudden end because of the stances he took inside the corridors of power against expanding and intensifying the war). But the terrible truth was that neither the father nor the son ever managed to transcend the boundaries of their particular roles to meet each other in a candid, reciprocal relationship. And Carroll is honest--he tells us this, painfully. A very fine book, which along the way reports interestingly on some nearly forgotten '60s episodes.