An authoritative, if too narrowly focused, Vietnam novel--about a real-life mutiny in a Marine prison--that adds a small but...

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FIRE AND RAIN

An authoritative, if too narrowly focused, Vietnam novel--about a real-life mutiny in a Marine prison--that adds a small but significant square to the literary mosaic concerning our national trauma. The opening pages quickly set the stage for what at first appears to be a familiar story: The good soldier, Corporal Dawson, who finds himself trapped in an oxymoron--""military justice."" After it seems that he has been singled out randomly for arrest, Dawson is sent off without trial to a place of hard labor, maddening regulations and brutal guards. Authenticity is first-novelist Rivera's main aim here, and this Marine veteran of Vietnam proves himself a careful craftsman in scenes detailing the edgy lives of his soldier-prisoners. But this is no Caine Mutiny. Seventy pages into Dawson's story we discover that he is, indeed, guilty as charged: He killed his sergeant, whose stupidity had caused the destruction of the company. By withholding this information--the fact of Dawson's guilt--Rivera deliberately shifts the reader's attention from ""whodunit"" to ""will he survive--and at what cost?"" He also reduces Dawson's role from character to onlooker--for the rest of the novel Dawson does little but run around witnessing the book's centerpiece, the Da Nang prison riot of 1968. In the process of subduing the brig, the Marines massacre some 40 prisoners of color; out of all his cellmates, Dawson (who is white) alone survives--like Ishmael. Unfortunately for his story, however, he's by now such a limited character in conception and in deed that the novel doesn't seem to have an ending, It just stops. Authentic to a fault. Rivera almost seems to want his work to be read as nonfiction--but it would have been better if he had expanded his imagination and trusted his tale.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 1990

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1990