Meece’s (Drifting in Paradise, 2017, etc.) novel follows a sonar technician on the USS Abel in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War.
Petty Officer John Mason longs for his home state of Kentucky as he reckons with the unfamiliar surroundings of combat. The story starts with the Abel patrolling near a small fishing village, anchoring, handing out soda to South Vietnamese soldiers, and receiving orders to shell the nearby forest for days on end. From Mason’s perspective, the banal cruelty of the artillery strike is just another sign of the corruption of an American government that took him away from his fiancee, Sonya, and threw him into harm’s way. Meanwhile, there’s race and class oppression on the Abel, where the enlisted men resent the overbearing, shortsighted officers. Their conversations aboard the ship and belowdecks veer from good-natured joking to nihilistic musing, often from one moment to the next. As the ship moves up the coastline to Hong Kong and back, the crew’s frustration heats up until it reaches a boiling point. And when Mason learns that Sonya has moved on, he feels that he has little left to lose. There are moments of striking depth in this book (“The lives of all are staked on the performance of each”) and other occasions of hilarity, but generally the dialogue feels stilted. Meece does employ some uniquely vivid language at times: “What an offer! I accept with alacrity”; “You imagine the satisfying feel of fisting him good in the middle of his face.” However, the frequent, midchapter shifts in perspective can be confusing; one moment, Mason is relating events in the first person, and then a third-person narrator takes over. Most oddly, the narration addresses Mason as “you” when it delves into Mason’s past. These stylistic choices make the prose difficult to follow and add little to the story.
A sometimes-confusing tale that doesn’t stand out from the crowd of Vietnam War narratives.