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Dirty Work

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  1,021 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Braiden Chaney has no arms or legs. Walter James has no face. They lost them in Vietnam, along with other, more vital parts of themselves. Now, twenty-two years later, these two Mississippians -- one black, the other white -- lie in adjoining beds in a V.A. hospital. In the course of one long night they tell each other how they came to be what they are and what they can on ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 12th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1989)
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This is one of those books that I use to size up other people. If you've read Dirty Work and you didn't love it, I wish you well but I doubt I want to know you. This was the first Larry Brown book that I ever read and, after re-reading it, it is still as powerful and haunting the second time around.

The novel focuses on two Vietnam veterans in the VA hospital two decades after the war has ended. Braiden, a black quadraplegic, has spent this entire time in the hospital and his imagination is his
Walter & Beth with their web of scars I'll not soon forget. Braiden dreaming of lions, crocs and Jesus. Diva ghosting in and out like an angel.

This is one of those novels that gets you at the end in a way you don't expect.

Maybe because the dialogue moves so fast but sinks in Mississippi slow and languid right up until that knife blow: Matt Monroe'd one inch from the heart and left hurting for these characters.

Not just the war-torn ones but the others as well all wanting to come home from so
This is an unusual format that, at times, reads like separate monologues. It reminded me a little of Stephen King's Delores Claiborne, not the story itself, but the mode of storytelling.

The tragic tale of two American vets who have both been scarred emotionally and physically, Dirty Work is brutally honest, yet beautifully written. At the end of the edition I read, there is an interview with Brown, who has since passed away. He is speaking to some of his critics, and I think the excerpt below su
Judy Vasseur
Sep 12, 2008 Judy Vasseur rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vietnam Vets, epileptics, people who have been mauled by dogs

For background music I recommend the song Over Jordan by Papa M.

Larry Brown explained during a talk given at the Fifth Biennial Conference on Southern Literature, "One of the questions about human nature that interests me most is how people bear up under monstrous calamity..."

Here he writes with gut wrenching tenderness about broken bodies and how gaps of loneliness are cauterized with fantasy, faith, beer, weed, and fellow broken travelers marching down the road to eternity.

Over arching is a va
powerful, powerful shit. The world has been granite-hard on us poor for eternity, and the crisp descriptive dialect in this short novel nails it.
Daniel Villines
I guess that stories about the personal after-effects of the Vietnam War are not my thing, at least not this type of story. Maybe it's because stories such as Dirty Work require the reader to develop deep sympathetic feelings for the main characters. In fact, the impact of the ending of Dirty Work will be proportional to the sympathy felt for the two main characters and every part of this story is geared towards developing those sympathetic feelings.

From my perspective, a soldier that comes home
Difficult to find words to express how much this short novel moved me...

Larry Brown has a way with his writing that takes you right under the skin of his characters. They are so vivid and believable. Dirty Work's two main protagonists are both physically and mentally scarred Vietnam veterans who share adjoining beds in a VA hospital 22 years after their war. Both Mississippians, limbless Braiden is black and faceless Walter is white. Both are from poor and troubled backgrounds. They find rare so
Eric Roy
The question is, why didn't I give this book FIVE stars? Well, after reading this book again (second time), I struggled a little bit with the ending. Won't give you any spoilers here, but I will say that Walter's last seizure and what happens because of it, seems a little far-fetched. Not to mention what he does with Diva, "given his devotion to Beth", as another reviewer puts it. The irony here is this is where Larry Brown's most vivid and lyrical writing comes into play.
That said, this is an
This is definitely an antiwar novel. It doesn't take long to know things will not turn out well. Over the course of a night and a day in a veterans hospital, Walter and Braiden meet and spend time talking about what they've gone through. It is impossible for them not to become bound to each other, simply because of their shared war experience. They are Vietnam vets; Braiden has been in the hospital a long time, and Walter ends up in the bed next to him. The narrative alternates between Braiden's ...more
If "One Flew Over A Cuckoo's Nest" took place in a VA hospital it might be this book; however, I hardly like that comparison or comparisons for that matter. Larry Brown is a master and is compared to far too many people.
This book hauls ass. Through the course of one evening in a veteran's hospital, the stories of two broken lives are laid out and laid to rest. The story has strength through a peculiar symmetry. One soldier is black, the other white, both raised poor in the south. One man has had his face taken from him, the other his arms and legs. One man's monologue seems centered around resolution and gaining an understanding of his life's narrative. The other man's language suggests a desire for release and ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Tuxlie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition

Dirty Work is the story of two men, strangers—one white, the other black. Both were born and raised in Mississippi. Both fought in Vietnam. Both were gravely wounded. Now, twenty-two years later, the two men lie in adjacent beds in a VA hospital.Over the course of a day and a night, Walter James and Braiden Chaney talk of memories, of passions, of fate.

With great vision, humor, and courage, Brown writes mostly about love in a story about the waste of war.

From Publishers Weekly

Two devastating

Robert Intriago
A truly moving and at the same time uplifting novel. It gets to the essence of the human spirit and its ability to survive the cruelest physical damages. Two Vietnam war veterans, one an African-American, from Mississippi are assigned next to each other in a VA hospital. They proceed to discuss their personal trial and tribulations with their individual handicaps and the outside world. They soon discover the similarities that they share despite their racial differences. A very enlightening story ...more
This is the story of the brief(?) intersection of two broken and twisted lives, of two Vietnam veterans who, in spite of their differences, have much in common. The book unsettled me at times. Do people really end up like this, maimed and hurting inside and out? Just how many beds in the local VA are home to those war has wrung of all hope, like water from a dish towel, souls squeezed dry by war and its aftermath?

As the chapters unfurl we learn of Braiden and Walter’s pasts, including the most o
Guy Salvidge
Finally, a Larry Brown novel to call my own. I've tended toward ambivalence with this author, but Dirty Work is a book that it'd be hard not to love. It's about two Vietnam veterans, both horribly disfigured (one with no limbs, one with terrible facial injuries who suffers frequent blackouts), one black, one white. Over the course of one night in hospital together, 20+ years back from Vietnam, they tell each other their story. This is a quick read and a smooth one throughout, but the author real ...more
Ross Cumming
I hadn't heard of Larry Brown until recently when I was watching the film 'Joe' and saw that he was the author of the novel on which the film was based and because i really enjoyed the film i thought I would give some of his books a try.
I've no idea if 'Dirty Work' is the best place to start or how it compares to the rest of his novels but I really enjoyed it. It tells the story of two Vietnam vets who share a VA hospital ward over the course of a day and a night. Braidan is black and has lost b
Jash Comstock
Incredible. Bleak and muddy, Brown hones in on places society forgets and makes broken people his storytellers. Brown's ear for conversation is wonderful. This is what good fiction is supposed to be, the chance to put on someone else's scarred up face and see the world through their eyes, with their memories, failures, and baggage painting the hues of your worldview. A big dose of empathy that ends too soon.
i concur with my friend, who said it more succinctly than i ever could, "if it doesn't make you cry, then you're not human." without question, one of the most powerful and evocative anti-war novels ever written.
I normally wouldn't care for "war books" but Brown's first novel goes far beyond that into a deeper human story. This is a staggering experience.
Can I give this three and a half stars? I did not find the lyrical writing I loved in Joe until the end of Dirty Work. After a slow start, I realized that this novel is about two guys who are in a hospital. One has no arms and no legs and is a long-time resident. The other man, a new patient, initially can't remember how or why he landed in the hospital. One man is black; the other man is white. One man has an important request; the other man has a decision to make.

Okay, I bumped this up to four
Very good, very very good.
Michael Smith
Larry Brown was one of the greatest Southern authors of all time, and “Dirty Work” is a fine example of his talent for developing characters that are honest as the day is long and placing them in situations that keep you reading late into the night and on into the morning. This is the story of two men who meet in the V.A. hospital twenty years after serving in the Vietnam war, where one of them lost his face and the other both arms and both legs. Both man are from Mississippi, one black, the oth ...more
Dirty Work is the story of two forgotten Vietnam veterans who meet in a VA hospital and embark on a brief friendship that changes both of their lives forever. Braiden lost both arms and both legs in the war and has been a hospital resident for twenty years. He (understandably) harbors a death wish and spends his days alternately watching television and fantasizing about an imagined life in Africa where he is an important tribal leader. Walter, suffering from severe facial deformity and debilitat ...more
Josh Neas
My introduction to Larry Brown came through the film version of his short story collection Big Bad Love. I saw that a new Tom Waits song had appeared on the soundtrack, so after hunting that down, I rented (and eventually bought) the film. But as much as I had meant to read his work, I only got around to it when Algonquin Books had a sale on Kindle editions of their books and I noticed this, his first novel, was one of them.

I struggle actually with my rating on this novel. My true feelings lie
Reads much like a play, since the whole book is either dialogue or interior monologue. At times this felt forced, such as when the characters would have conversations but only the speaker's side was written, so then he would ask self-evident questions so the reader could follow along. Reminded me of bad sitcoms when a character gets a phone call and asks questions so the viewer will know what the person on the other end of the line is saying--"What, you're coming over at noon? And you're bringin ...more
Benjamin Barry
Good symbolism. Intriguing characters. Nice and dark. The dialogue seems off to me-- like the type of hard ass talk someone uses when they're not a real hard ass. Beautiful climax-- most poetic. Plenty of suffering and some mercy. This was my first experience with Brown after reading most of McCarthy's southern gothic. It's less heavy handed (in a good way), but not as authentic in dialogue and character motivation.
Garth Mailman
Two of my favourite authors, Larry Brown and Larry Watson. Brown, a smoker who died of a heart attack in 2004, wrote this book a quarter-century ago. Two injured Vietnam Vets end up in adjoining beds in a VA Hospital. One a black man missing both arms and legs has been there for 22 years, the other missing most of his face is a 250 pound white man who suffers from black-outs caused by a bullet logged in his brain. What these two men have in common is what we learn over a two-day period. Somehow ...more
Alex Norcross
Larry Brown's works are realistic, dark, fast-paced, and deep. This particular novel keeps your interest from the beginning and it becomes relentless as the story progresses. Dirty Work has almost no falling action; its just rising action, rising action, rising action, CLIMAX, end. This method of story-telling makes the narrative all the more shocking, effective, and tragic. PS: Its about two Vietnam War veterans in the same hospital and how they both choose to face life and leave it.


I would
This is one of those books that, if you have a few hours where you know you won't be interrupted, you should be able to finish it in one go. It moves that fast. Unfortunately, I didn't have a few hours to do this. I feel like I missed some of the impact having to read it over the span of a week all broken up in chunks. But the wollop I did get was as about as gut wrenching as could be. Fair warning, this book is one downer after another with the one ray of hope a sardonically ironic one. I feel ...more
One of the best novels I've read in I don't know how long. Alternately poignant and gritty, horrifying and transcendent, brutal and beautiful, after reading this book, I see why Brown was compared to his fellow Lafayette County, Mississippi novelist, William Faulkner. It isn't style, because where Faulkner soars, Brown stays gritty and focused. It's in the fact that both writers approached nothing less than, as Faulkner explained when he won the Nobel Prize, the old verities which comprise the t ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Larry Brown was an American writer who was born and lived in Oxford, Mississippi. Brown wrote fiction and nonfiction. He graduated from high school in Oxford but did not go to college. Many years later, he took a creative writing class from the Mississippi novelist Ellen Dou
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“We know You love us. We love You, too. I mean, six, seven thousand years from now . . . won't make no difference, will it? Everybody gonna be so mixed up by then that far in the future that they all gonna be the same color by then, ain't they?” 6 likes
“I told him. We got a library here. Got plenty of good books, too. -Larry Brown, Dirty Work” 1 likes
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