Book Review: Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service
“Playing Soldier” is a raw and masterfully written memoir by F. Scott Service. The book is dedicated to the personal experience of war. The author begins with the motivation that can lead someone to participate, takes us through a fragment of war and ends his story with the consequences.
Our journey along Scott begins at the very beginning of his childhood. He was raised in a loving home, but not a perfect home. An only child, he takes refuge from everyday life in fiction and games. One day, he finds his father’s old campaign jacket which triggers a new story for him, that of a soldier. Dressed in his father’s jacket and armed with a BB gun, he shares the battlefield with the neighborhood children. The school fails to hold Scott’s attention; he prefers to continue exploring the many worlds of fiction. He dreamed of becoming a literary world builder himself, but was repeatedly drawn to more practical career alternatives.
The next stage of his life begins slowly and Scott marries his college sweetheart, Rita with whom he raises Spazzy, their beloved cat. Hand in hand, they were slowly building their future together. But the shimmering surface blinds Scott to a dark truth that lurks in the corner of his consciousness because there is no substance to this projection of living together. The I got lost in us, or quite simply in her. So when offered the chance to join the National Guard, Scott, with his wife’s blessing, decides to follow his inner child’s call to adventure. The army still has an almost magical hold on him; it is shrouded in romance and thrill. Moreover, the recruiter also displays the prospect of a good salary and better job opportunities.
But what begins as playing soldier during his training quickly turns into an unrecognizable eviction reality on the brink of existence, as Scott is dropped into the war in Iraq. It is not the military service of his childhood games, nor the image that has flourished in his imagination ever since. It is something beyond scope and reason. The war turns into a black sun that slowly burns away his sense of reality and self. And as Rita decides to file for divorce, Scott’s life before becomes just another war warrant.
Disillusioned with the war, Scott attempts to sever his ties with the military and rebuild a new life. But the shadow cast by the fight seems unwilling to let go. Expected social reintegration is severely hampered by a horrific divorce, an existential crisis and PTSD. The temptation of the final escape turns Scott on and a new journey begins.
“Playing Soldier” is a deeply reflective view of his own life and life in general. F. Scott Service deftly draws readers in through a series of intimate confessions and hooks them to a sweet, melancholy note that resonates throughout the pages of the book. The effortless and elevated literary language of the book can hook anyone, regardless of their interest in the subject of war. After all, this is a memoir dedicated to the human condition in its rawest form, walking the line between life and death.