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How would you explain this sentence?

Over the next few weeks I started to get the impression he was avoiding me. There wasn’t any particular thing that made me curious at first. He was aloof on patrol, which happened from time to time. When I saw him on the FOB, he would act as if he were in a hurry, or he’d turn his back to me when I tried to catch up to him, casting down his eyes when we’d make contact. But you give a guy a break at times like those. Shit, it wasn’t but a year or so since he’d spent the better part of his life buried in that goddamn mine he was always talking about. “Shipp Mountain,” he’d say, “now that’s a bitch. We’d go down in, three, four o’clock in the morning, laying on this cart …

How would you explain this sentence: But you give a guy a break at times like those? Does this sentence miss “should” before “give”?
Another question: How would you explain “wasn’t but” in the next sentence?
Thanks!

For learning: English
Base language: English
Category: Language

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    Buth sentences are fine for me. You *could* put "should" in without appreciably changing the meaning, but that doesn't mean that it's missing.

    "wasn't but a year or so" = "was only/just a year or so"

    You are correct. "should" is missing.
    "wasn't" is incorrect in that sentence. To be consistent with the tense in the rest of the text, it should be "hadn't been".
    "wasn't but" in this context means the same as "hadn't even been".

     

    "But you give a guy a break at times like those." This is correct, and there is nothing missing. The writer means that it is normal to give a guy a break in this situation.

    "It wasn't but a year or so since..." = "it was barely a year or so since..."

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