TOPSHAM — When Morris Lavallee talks about Peter Davies, a key character in “Cracks in the Wall,” the author is in many ways reflecting on himself.
Lavallee’s historical novel is based on his own experiences in the military during the Vietnam War.
“It’s a psychological journey,” Lavallee said. “… It’s really about the causes and effect of post traumatic stress.”
Lavallee said his time in Vietnam caused him to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
“Cracks in the Wall” chronicles two key characters: Davies and psychiatrist Dr. Prescott Brown, who are drawn together by fate years after the war’s end, when Peter is brought to a Veterans Administration hospital after being found standing catatonically at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Sociologically, they’re polar opposites. But they’re not,” Lavallee said.
Davies is a draftee from poor beginnings, while Brown is “Boston blue blood,” the author explained. “They start going down this path, and the doctor is really perplexed with Peter because there’s something different about him from the other patients, and he tries to keep getting to the bottom of it.”
Lavallee self-published the book last May, having worked on it for about 15 years.l
“For me, there was a lot of therapy in it,” he said. “There’s a lot of the character of Peter that is me.”
For one thing, they have both struggled with PTSD. In the early 1990s, Lavallee was sent to the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, where he stayed for three months and underwent a PTSD therapy program. He also journaled and spoke with other veterans who still suffered from the war’s impact, years after the last shot was fired.
“It’s a lot about learning about how to just deal with today,” Lavallee said. “… It’s a coping mechanism. It flares up sometimes when I don’t enough sleep, but I know I have a really good support unit around me from friends.”
Being able to recognize triggers is important, too, he said, noting that “I haven’t had a real episode … in probably eight or nine years.”
The book’s characters are all pieces of Lavallee, he explained, and through them he has been able to look at his qualities and shortcomings.
“It’s like a catharsis,” he said. “Every time I develop a character, and write him, there’s piece of my insanity that goes with him, so therefore I’m less insane than I was before.”
The 58-year-old was raised in Bath and Brunswick and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970. He was temporarily transferred to the Marines for almost two years and served in Laos and Cambodia. He returned to the Navy and completed his service in 1973.
Thinking back on his experience , he recalled his father saying, while watching Vietnam War footage, that the problem with television is that the killing is shown, but not the dying.
Lavallee, who will wake up some nights remembering the side of his face being splattered by a fellow soldier’s brain matter, can attest to that sentiment.
“War is not a video game,” he said. “People die.”
Despite the experiences he has endured, Lavallee noted that he “would never want anyone to assume that this is a bitch-fest for me, because it’s not. It’s about an observation.”
The conversations in his book stem from those he had with other veterans in the smoking room at the VA hospital.
“I just listened,” he said. “I listened and knew that there was something I needed to say, and I wasn’t sure what it was.”
Now he has said it.
Lavallee said he is humbled by the positive response to the book so far. He is working on two more, one of which is a sequel to “Cracks in the Wall” and covers the journey of Brown, who has been inspired by Davies.
“Cracks in the Wall” will soon be available at Borders in Brunswick. Lavallee plans to go on a book-reading tour next month at libraries, book stores and literary groups. People can also find the book on Facebook.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Morris Lavallee of Topsham is the author of “Cracks in the Wall,” a novel based on his experience in the Vietnam War.