A never exaggerated and always engaging first novel that explores the whole of a Vietnam GI's life, by Kirkus contributor and former Booklist editor Mort (the collections Tanks, 1987;The Walnut King, 1990, not reviewed). Nicknamed "Irish" by his fellow soldiers, James Patrick Donnelly comes from southern Missouri, where his boyhood life was poor, mean, and unenlightened, his father (who never once writes his son a card or letter the entire time he's in Vietnam) a bully who, after his wife dies of cancer and he loses his farm, takes up with another woman on the patently false pretense that he's going to marry her. Even so, this is the father who in one way or another continues to guide the son, even after the war, when, finding himself in psycho-emotional free-fall (—There were so many jobs I can—t remember them all. Seventeen, was it, in twelve years?—), Irish heads for Florida (—When I was a boy, my father, tough old George Donnelly, would talk of Florida as though it were Paradise—). Irish's hapless involvements with women there, with other veterans, with one job after another, are offered up against the backdrop of those scenes in Vietnam itself that form the novel's backbone, unifying past and present. In Vietnam, Irish meets Norman Sims, the awkward and off-putting Oklahoma rube, patriot, fundamentalist—and instinctively courageous hero—who will eventually become Irish's alter ego and tragically lost brother. Before that stage of recognition can be reached, however, the reader will be taken through swamp, plain, paddy, and jungle with Irish's beleaguered platoon, through stages of death, suffering, horror, misery, irony, pathos, and humor that will finally allow the story to cohere, giving epiphany (especially through Sims's astonishing end) and the promise of wholeness to its thinking narrator's previously shaken and uncentered life. Intelligent, sensitive, and unflaggingly honest: a novel deserving of its place among the chronicles not only of that war but of its era.
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