“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 starts with the motivation that may lead someone to participate, takes us through a fragment of war, and ending his tale with the aftermath.
Our journey along Scott starts at the very beginning with his childhood. He was raised in a loving home, but not a perfect home. An only child, he finds refuge from daily life in fiction and play. One day he finds the old field jacket of his father which sparks a new narrative for him, playing soldier. Dressed up in his father’s jacket and armed with a BB gun, he shares the battlefield with the neighborhood kids. School fails to hold Scott’s attention; he would rather continue to explore the many worlds of fiction. He was dreaming of becoming a literary world-builder himself but was repeatedly pulled toward more practical career alternatives.
The next stage of his life slowly ushers in 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 sparkly surface blinds Scott from a dark truth that lurks in the corner of his consciousness as there is no substance to this projection of life together. The I became lost in us, or just 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 military still has an almost magical hold on him; it is shrouded in romanticism and thrill. What is more, the recruiter also flaunts the perspective of good pay and better employment opportunities.
But what starts as playing soldier during his training soon spirals into an unrecognizable ouster reality on the edge of existence, as Scott is dropped off in the Iraq war. This is not the military service from his childhood games, nor the image that was blooming in his imagination ever since. It is something beyond scope and reason. War morphs 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 from before becomes just another collateral of war.
Disillusioned by war, Scott tries to break his ties with the military and rebuild a new life. But the shadow cast by combat seems unwilling to let him go. The expected social reintegration is severely impeded by an ugly divorce, an existential crisis, and PTSD. The temptation of the final escape triggers a light in Scott and a new journey begins.
“Playing Soldier” is a deeply reflexive take on one’s own life and life in general. F. Scott Service skillfully draws in the readers through a series of intimate confessions and gets them hooked on a sweet melancholic note that rings throughout the pages of the book. The effortless and elevated literary language in the book can hook anyone, regardless of his or her interest in the topic of war. After all, this is a memoir dedicated to the human condition at its rawest, walking the line between life and death.