LAUGHTER ON THE RIVERS OF DEATH by Bill Ferguson

LAUGHTER ON THE RIVERS OF DEATH

One Sailor's Humorous Experiences in Vietnam

KIRKUS REVIEW

A sailor recalls his river boat experiences in Vietnam.

Laughter is the best medicine, as they say, and Navy-veteran Bill Ferguson applies that approach when recalling his duty to seek out enemy weapons in Vietnam’s waterways. The casual onlooker probably sees very little to no humor in recollecting that relatively recent turbulence; Ferguson, however, disagrees. He had already been enlisted for 10 years when he wondered if he had what it took to be a boat captain. He daydreamed about kicking some VC ass, and then fairly quickly began to question why he’d volunteered for such an assignment. The first half of the account discusses his switching jobs as a machinist mate, to quickly learning various arms, boat maneuverability and the subtleties of detecting ambushes. The second half applies that training, but not quite in the typical way. It’s made clear that the writing’s purpose is not to tell war stories or tales of heroism because much of that has already been done. Rather, “This book chronicles events that evoked laughter,” Ferguson says. That humor seems to operate on two levels: first, the recollections of people who share the same experiences, like fellow vets chuckling about the gun representing a phallic symbol or the hijacking of an army truck, which might only evoke a polite smile from the uninitiated reader; second, Ferguson’s dry humor, an affect the reader can better appreciate. The frequently referenced military slang of “pucker factor” is expressed more comically in a drawing depicting the sphincter muscle in a stressful position. Other incongruous illustrations delve into seemingly surreal experiences but are no less comical, or at least uniquely odd. Politics of war are not discussed, nor is there much analysis or broad context. The story seems part purge, part philosophy; a reader could conceivably connect that ambivalence to the author’s feeling on the war. The overall chronological and military detail is impressive, although the writing is formless at times, especially with the confusing use of italics and changes of thought within chapters.

An unusual, humorous look back to a volatile time.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 2007
ISBN: 978-1434316783
Page count: 164pp
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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