A young GI goes to fight in Vietnam, in an originally self-published first novel.
Carl Melcher dislikes army life from the start but after a while comes to depend on its traditions and routines. A quiet and somewhat bookish kid from Philadelphia, Carl was drafted when he broke up with his girlfriend, flunked out of the state university, and lost his college exemption. After basic and infantry training on the West Coast, he shipped out with the 4th Division in 1968 and landed in Pleiku Province in South Vietnam. Like everyone else in B Company, Carl is literally counting the days (365 of them, to be exact) until his tour of duty ends and he can go home. Not quite as weird as M*A*S*H, Company B has its share of eccentrics and characters: Gene-the-Doc, the company medic, is a conscientious objector who turns Carl on to Hermann Hesse, while Carl’s squad leader Ron preaches that the war is a plot to rid Asia and America of their surplus populations. After a relatively cushy assignment at base camp, Company B gets sent into “the boondocks,” where jungle patrols, mortar bombardments, and sniper attacks are the order of the day. Later, posted to guard a floating bridge in a quiet provincial town, Carl comes to know the Vietnamese and falls in love with a village girl named Chantal. Clayton has a good feel for the mundane basics of army life—the paperwork, petty rivalries, endless succession of eventless days broken by sudden eruptions of chaos—and he writes de profundis from the perspective of the troops for whom the war is a daily chore without any overriding strategy or meaning. Although he survives, Carl is essentially unchanged at the end and exhibits no real emotions save the relief that comes at the end of the day.
Intriguing but flat: Clayton, whose debut was a 2001 Frankfurt e-book Award Finalist, paints a portrait of external features and invests them with little by way of depth, development, or nuance.