Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir
Journalist Robert Timberg has written other people's stories: Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, Admiral John Poindexter, Senator John McCain, and Navy Secretary James Webb (THE NIGHTINGALE’S SONG and JOHN MCCAIN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY). He also has written about his generation (STATE OF GRACE: A Memoir of a Twilight Time). But it wasn't enough. There was an untold story waiting.
This story begins like the other ones: in the mind, heart and body of a young man fighting in an undeclared conflict in Southeast Asia that split a generation of Americans in two. Just a few days before his duty was done, as he was looking forward to returning home to his wife and family, Timberg's vehicle was struck by a landmine. Third-degree burns covered most of his body, and his face was unrecognizable. He subsequently had more than 30 surgeries: one on his eye, with no anesthesia. His descriptions of reincarnating with a pieced-together face will haunt readers much as it has haunted Timberg, because he writes about it so frankly.
"This new book allows Timberg to kick himself for his personal failures and pat himself gently on the back for some of his professional triumphs, at times displaying a wry sense of humor."
Timberg recalls getting his first real story as a cub reporter, about a woman who had jumped off a bridge. He pushed for that story, questioning everyone at the scene and finally elbowing his way into a departing police car. He realized afterwards that while he was on the trail of the facts, he wasn't thinking about his scars.
BLUE-EYED BOY sifts through some of the same ground the author covered in his previous works. It includes the complex backstory about writing THE NIGHTINGALE’S SONG and, particularly, Timberg's long-standing relationship with John McCain. McCain, he states, never lionizes himself in speaking of his years of capture and torture by the Viet Cong, and Timberg describes him as paradoxically one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet. This new book allows Timberg to kick himself for his personal failures and pat himself gently on the back for some of his professional triumphs, at times displaying a wry sense of humor. He writes unflinchingly about his patched-up face and the reactions it can draw from others; comments acidly about those of his generation who dodged the draft during the Vietnam years; and generously praises the individuals who served, including those in the medical cadres without whom there might be no Timberg.
Timberg recounts a day when, looking in the mirror as usual as one does in the morning, years after that fateful event in Vietnam, he suddenly felt that he couldn't go on being who he was. Maybe we all feel that way sometimes, and perhaps that is part of the point of this memoir. Like many in his generation, Timberg had multiple marriages, children and careers. In that sense, he could be an average guy. But his journey from Marine to wounded warrior to reporter to award-winning author was anything but average.
In BLUE-EYED BOY, Timberg does not seem to be seeking "closure." Along with his visible scars, he acknowledges and accepts an added burden: the invisible wounds of a generation.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on August 1, 2014