The menace of the Viet Cong pales beside the tantrums of a fussy newborn in these tense, ardent letters between a soldier and his put-upon wife.
This second volume of the Clarks’ letters, covering Bill’s tour as a U.S. Army Special Forces captain in Vietnam from March to September 1971, begins with the birth of their son, Billy, an event that rocks Donna like the Tet Offensive. With Donna torn between a mother’s love and the squalling, pooping, grabbing, hair-pulling reality of a difficult baby, her conflicted letters express adoration and resentment in the same breath—“Billy’s screaming up a storm, he’s so cute.” She develops a severe case of postpartum depression that leads to a near breakdown: “I feel like just getting away and never returning,” she confesses and adds, “I’m not kidding about the fact that I could almost kill myself.” Meanwhile, Bill is as supportive of Donna’s violent mood swings as he can be from almost 10,000 miles away; he even volunteers to have a vasectomy to appease her dread of further pregnancies. There’s both prickliness and ardent passion in the Clarks’ correspondence; along with Donna’s anxiety about her figure, her threats to give away Bill’s incontinent dog and their mutual suspicions of infidelity, there are countless gushing protestations of love—“Honey, I want you so bad I want to hold you, squeeze your breasts and thighs into my body, and cry”—and yearning countdowns to their reunion. In between the moments of crisis, tension and romantic effusion are long stretches of banality. Donna’s everyday routine—“Then Mom, Billy and I went to Burdine’s and I bought a mattress pad”—fills letter after letter. Bill mentions occasional decapitations and mass casualties in passing, but the sheer ennui of base life—“I wish I had something to write about, but I just don’t”—predominates in his missives. Moon shots and the counterculture—“Talk about gross….the guys’ hairdos are unreal”—go on in the background, but the Clarks stay raptly absorbed in the minutiae of personal life. The collection could have benefitted from a stern editor, but it does vividly convey the small dramas of a typical military family.
An authentic, if overpadded, document of the Vietnam era.