In DeStefanis’ (The Philosophy of Big Buck Hunting, 2011) first novel, a young man in the Vietnam War confronts the differences between good and evil.
Brady Nash leads a bucolic life in 1967 America, and as this novel opens, he sits at the base of an oak tree in Tennessee cradling a hunting rifle and admiring the crisp, fresh landscape spread out before him. Brady is about to trade cornfields for jungles, as he’s enlisted in the Vietnam War as a sniper. He’s no stranger to the perils of combat; his best friend, Duff Cowan, went away months ago and was tragically killed in action. Despite this, Brady can’t help feeling excited—but when he arrives on the other side of the world, things begin to look a bit skewed, and suddenly Duff’s death doesn’t seem so honorable. In fact, Brady suspects that his friend might have been a victim of foul play. In true thriller mode, Brady infiltrates the secretive world of black ops to find answers about his dead friend, and he learns that in a deadly war, things aren’t always as clear as they are back home and that good and evil are not as black and white on the battlefield. Brady’s loyalties become fragmented; he has love for his country, commitment to his duty, grief for his best friend, and a desire to understand and potentially avenge his death. This novel’s prose evokes a simplicity and clarity evident in certain classics of American literature, raising it slightly above most conventional wartime psychological thrillers (“Brady held the barrel up to the bedside lamp….The spiral of lands and grooves gleamed like a mirror under the light”). The opening section, for example, feels somewhat reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s work. The conflicts that play out in Brady’s psyche work well in the Vietnam War setting, which is always ripe for exploration of moral dilemmas. Fans of historical fiction will also find plenty to enjoy here.
A rare Vietnam story that manages to draw power from its protagonist rather than from the bewildering tragedies of war.