I felt mixed about this. There were pieces I like a lot and pieces I didn't like at all. I also wonder if part of the reason this book gets rated so highly is because of it's subject matter.
I liked the "Sweetheart..." story because it seemed like the kind of story that might get told there by soldiers sitting around. I think this was one side of the book that was interesting. There are different types of stories, that work in different ways but that still function to give a reader like me, who wasn't there, a feel for the experience.
I liked "On the Rainy River". I felt I could connect with what he was going through and the idea of running away to some random roadside hotel to work through it.
I liked some of the images of the soldiers talking, the sketches of their personalities. I thought that stuff rang true.
On the other hand, I felt some of it was preachy, for instance "How to tell a true war story". I also felt that the book was hypocritical in that some of the pieces did seem to be emotionally manipulative rather than "true". For instance, "the man I killed". I really felt uncomfortable about his imagined story for the dead man. The whole notion of telling that kind of story and the sort of pity he seems to take on the dead guy was stomach turning. It's a cliche and it's wasn't well done. I think some times he does want to come out with some kind of moral in his stories.
On the whole I didn't think he was that great a writer. I didn't like the way he put in notes like "Start here:" for instance. I can understand he was trying to mess with notions of art and the story but it didn't feel interesting, it just made it seem messy. There's a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" in this book. I feel like there are a lot of short cuts in places. Places where the fact that he's just not a very good writer shows through in an inability to use language to create an effect or to carry an idea. He just kind of hacks at the problems sometimes.
I also think there are just some cliches that really permeate this book. The whole notion that danger can be exhilirating and make you feel more alive. I don't object to this being part of what you are doing, but he states it like it's something that so uniquely true of his experience that it justifies him just bald face saying it repeatedly. That stuff doesn't help me appreciate the experience any more.
As far as the unpleasant or uncomfortable stuff in there. That stuff I can appreciate. That did make me feel more like I was there. It made me feel uncomfortable. I think that was the intended effect. I liked that he presented this stuff with a feeling of understanding for the people who did those things, without trying to justify them. The purpose of these parts did seem "true" to me. That's just what it was like. He isn't engaged in trying to make those things seem more humane, but he's also not presenting them in the spirit of holding them up for us to feel outraged by. I think these are some of the places he can express more subtle effects. He communicates both the humanness of the soldiers doing these things, as well as horror of the actual actions.