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 A bleak look at the peacetime era of the New Army and its racism, drug abuse, prostitution, and zombie-like TV viewing. While stretches of O'Connor's first novel become tedious and programmatic, it does offer a hard-luck look at idle soldiers. The story, written oddly and not quite felicitously in the second person, centers on Specialist Ray Elwood, a clerk to battalion commander Berman, a boss who's mostly concerned with writing about Dien Bien Phu. Elwood, meanwhile, deals heroin and serves as a middleman for fencing stolen goods, among other escapades that are presented in sometimes mind-numbing detail. The slice-of-life is replete with gritty instances and macho talk. The plot, such as it is, concerns Berman's order to Elwood to memorialize a dead soldier, McCovey. The memorial amounts to a scam, because McCovey, like most of the people we meet here, was the lowest of the low. Highlights of the tale include ``dick surgery,'' a circumcision that's talked about and then celebrated; the technicalities of shooting up and of manipulating buyers (``One of your talents, perhaps the only one, is for tuning people....In chemical terms you are a catalyst''). We are taken through this version of hell, in other words, treated to all the sights and sounds thereof, and then, to bring the documentary-like narrative to a close, O'Connor has the troops engage in a mock-battle. Berman screws up for the umpteenth time and is relieved of his command, while Elwood ends up in a metal locker and meets what seems to be a sorry end--the locker is tossed out a window-- that's relieved only by an hallucination. A post-Vietnam equivalent of James Jones's dissections of the peacetime services: underbelly-of-life fiction that, in its unrelieved bleakness, suggests that reform of the volunteer Army is overdue.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41508-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1992