'I have seen cities destroyed in my life, people buried, graves dug up. I have lived outside in the elements. I know that everything is recomposed from preexisting matter, that we are all fragments from earth and life blown apart and gathered up. Pieces of us are from stars and meteors, the ocean, dirt, and the dead." In Benjamin Busch's memoir, the elements that have made up his own life -- such as bone, ash, water and metal -- set the framework for a mosaic of memories.
Busch's personal history is a twisting path with the strength of his connection to the natural world running through it like a stream. His boyhood memories are peppered with long days spent digging trenches, building forts and exploring the forests beyond his childhood homes. He pursued even the objects he was warned from -- including water and bees -- his natural and indefatigable curiosity winning out over caution and safety.
It was no surprise to Busch that he was ultimately drawn to a soldier's life; even on an early field trip to a medieval castle in England he admired the metal armor, and "War became smaller, closer, and ... beautiful." After his junior year at Vassar College, majoring in studio art, he spent the summer at the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, much to the dismay of his parents (including his father, novelist Frederick Busch). Busch writes with eloquence about his tours of combat in Iraq, and seamlessly blends the human and natural characteristics of war.
Busch has also pursued careers in acting, directing and writing (he played police officer Anthony Colicchio on TV's "The Wire"), although these experiences did not figure as prominently in the memoir. His nonlinear narrative can sometimes be distracting, as in one scene where he returns from active duty and a short time later auditions for a role in "The Wire," when there had been no previous mention of acting ambitions. In another he mentions having a younger brother, but the brother is only mentioned once or twice. These holes can leave the reader wanting more.
Busch has taken the places he's been, physically and emotionally, and shares them with the skill of an intrepid explorer. "You invade so many places in your life," he writes, "you are a constant intruder, and you keep all of the places you enter, and you let them all go."
Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.