A group of callow but well-intentioned 1960s college students opposes the Vietnam War in this coming-of-age novel.
The grandson of a Colorado labor activist and a sometime college student, Tom Hill works construction jobs as a roofer. It is 1966 and the Vietnam War is heating up, but Tom, for the moment, seems more interested in his job site rivalry with a slow old-timer named Dennis whom he can run circles around. Dennis retaliates by firing a nail through part of Tom’s hand with his nail gun. Not only does Tom have to deal with his injury, but he has to confront his precarious student deferment status as well. The tale becomes intriguing when Bradbury (Kid Golly Speaks, 2018, etc.) focuses on Tom’s relationship with his student buddies, members of the steering committee for Peace Action Now, who are forever posturing and leafleting the university in their fictional Colorado campus town that somewhat resembles Boulder and Fort Collins. Tom has eyes for winsome committee member Sandra, the daughter of his mentor and adviser, the avuncular Professor Ellsworth Boyce, an expert in Colorado labor history and ardent supporter of the anti-war movement. The author effectively ratchets up the action as Tom deals with his draft board and the heavy consequences of his opposition to the war when the police attack him at a local rally. Bradbury deftly captures the taut confusion that takes place when Tom has to take his draft physical. Throughout, the author’s dialogue and prose prove crisp and sometimes succinct. “He would graduate winter quarter, 1968, the prime rate willing,” Bradbury writes of Tom. But often the book bogs down, mostly due to the lack of a strong editor (“Go the hell, Dennis”; “He decided he to get one at the post office”; “Still, their leader, Pete, upheld up the tradition willingly”).
An uneven but at times engaging war resistance tale that grapples with some of the moral complexities of the Vietnam era.