Cliff Wilkes, an early Vietnam arrival (as one of the original American ""advisors""), has been in hiding for five...



Cliff Wilkes, an early Vietnam arrival (as one of the original American ""advisors""), has been in hiding for five years--ever since his involvement in a torture-death turned him into a deserter; his refuge has been the room of a Saigon bar-girl named Lanh. But, as Butler's first novel begins, the South is being overrun, Saigon is emptying--and Cliff and Lanh are getting onto a departing helicopter, though they decide to split up temporarily because of Cliff's deserter past. So: Cliff takes a false name, claiming to be a journalist who lost his papers. . . while, back in the States, Lanh is relocated through social welfare agencies to a small rural Illinois town named Speedway. And when Cliff joins her there (still somewhat on the lam), the relationship in the book's first half--Cliff the refugee, Lanh the protector--is reversed. In fact, Cliff now finds a Lanh who comes to life only with the one other Vietnamese family in town, the Binhs; otherwise she keeps to their rented room, all but mute. A pathetic situation? Yes--but Butler makes more of it than that, thanks to some wise, novelistic strokes. He keeps Lanh an unsentimental, seasoned character--no waif. He avoids the usual Sayonara-style pidgin conversations by having Cliff and Lanh speak Vietnamese (translated, of course, into articulate English). And he arranges for Cliff to be constantly, painfully aware of the sociological/sexual matrix upon which his days with Lanh precariously rest. Admittedly, the book is now and then overly doubled-up inside of Cliff's thoughts--connecting, intensifying realizations--and at those times it is annoyingly pawky. But this is still one of the more specific Vietnam novels, taking into account the unreality of over-there as well as back-here--something which Butler achieves mainly by giving all his players a spare, unfrilled dignity. A promising debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Horizon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981