Herman Wouk–like in its sweep, a portrait of men at arms and the women who wish they weren’t.
Vietnam vet Pfarrer (Neverlight, 1982, etc.) again alternates points of view, switching between in-country, tough-as-nails Marine MacHugh Clare and his equally tough wife, Sarah, who waits back home at Camp Lejeune. Mac is loved by his men, who affectionately taunt him: “‘He cometh! The quiet Commie killer!’” Mac, in turn, is devoted to his troops, sharing close bonds with them that an in-country newcomer, the chaplain Paul Adrano, finds challenging at times. Paul, a tough if slight New Yorker who has requested duty not only in Vietnam but also on the front lines—a choice that will lead him to the mouth of hell, in Hue—longs to lose his innocence of combat. Mostly, he wants to fit in, and, as Mac and his men exchange remarks like “You’ve looked at the H and I’s? You checked the night defensive fires?” Paul finds himself wishing that “they would use plain English. He knew somebody was in trouble, but who it was, and what H and I’s were, he had no idea.” Because he’s fearless, and because he’s chosen to be there, Paul quickly earns his comrades’ respect; even after plenty of firefights, when he has shed his innocence, Paul refuses to accept a safe rear-echelon assignment. Back home, Sarah tries to live a normal life and keep herself from musing on what would happen if Mac were killed. “I don’t think about it,” she tells a friend. “I’m not fit for anything the world needs.” And so each character fights his or her pitched battles, struggling to stay alive and sane against plenty of odds. Not everyone makes it, and, indeed, Pfarrer sets out one of the most effective and memorable death scenes in modern war literature.
Thoroughly well crafted, though not for the squeamish.