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Today, Lily's Reviews welcomes Mark Stevens, the author's (Gary Reilly) friend and publisher, who writes about him.....

Pablo Picasso said “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

My pal Gary Reilly felt that truth, I believe, in his soul.

One big chunk of “daily life” that Gary had to wash away was The Vietnam War.

Gary invented Private Palmer as his artistic catharsis. Gary wrote The Private Palmer Trilogy—200,000 words of keen insight into what if feels like to go to war, fight in the war, and come home again.

In The Enlisted Men’s Club (2014), Private Palmer is doing his time at The Presidio in San Francisco and the war looms. Private Palmer doesn’t know if he’ll be shipped off or not. He spends his time trying to avoid superiors with dumb ideas and meaningless chores. Briefly, Private Palmer tries to curry favor. He makes a few friends on the base and off. Mostly, he drinks as much beer as possible. Until, that is, he is sent on a somber mission that changes his life.

The Detachment (2016), takes place in Vietnam. Private Palmer is an MP and the most of the action takes place around the Qui Nhon Army Airfield, where Gary was based. Now, the war is much closer. Now, there’s more beer and stronger substances that will help you forget where you are and what you’re doing. Private Palmer walks right up to the edge of the abyss and peers over. The Detachment is told in three parts of Private Palmer’s year “in country.” The first is arrival and orientation to the new surroundings, to the sounds and sights of war. The second part is survival, mid-year. The third part is Palmer seeing the finish line—and hoping nothing happens to ruin his chances of going home in one piece.

The Discharge comes out this month (June 23). Now, Palmer (no longer “Private”) is back home in Denver and he’s trying to find his way, trying to re-establish who he is and want he wants to do after all that he’s seen. In real life, Gary Reilly at one point was very close to being a paid writer with the stand-up comedian Louie Anderson and in The Discharge, in the moving middle section, Palmer goes to California to chase this hope. In the third section, Palmer is back in Denver still looking to find his place in the world, some meaning, when he settles on driving a taxi.

And, at the very end, starting to write fiction. Palmer had one short story published in a prominent journal and we know that becoming a novelist was always a secret dream, just as it was for Gary.

What do we ask of our soldiers? What do we know of their lives mid-war? How do we treat them when they come home?

And what was it like to have lived through it? I knew Gary for the last seven years of his life. He didn’t talk about Vietnam. He preferred to chat about the latest movie he’d seen or book he’d read.

He loved stories. He knew their power.

Gary Reilly, who passed away in 2011, took all that Vietnam dust and washed it away in three brilliant, sharply written novels. (The terrific novelist Ron Carlson called The Detachment “Catch 23 or 24.”)

The Private Palmer Series is complete. The Asphalt Warrior series, eight books (so far) of comedic “dust” based on Gary’s life as a taxi driver in Denver is nearing completion. And then there are another dozen or so novels to publish that Gary left behind.

Gary Reilly knew what to do with all his experiences, heavy-duty ones or every-day working week.

Turn them into art.
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