A departure for Pulitzer Prize–winner Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains, 2003, etc.): a memoir recounting his time in Vietnam as a green lieutenant turned world-weary REMF.
Fresh out of Robert Fitzgerald’s creative writing seminar and the hip Cambridge scene, Harvard grad Kidder didn’t want to go to Vietnam, and for a time it looked like he wouldn’t have to—until the callow ROTC kid managed to irritate a colonel. Kidder finds himself dispatched in country to a behind-the-lines intelligence unit sorely short on the niceties of Army discipline. No sweat to him: “Why should I care if some of the men didn’t shave some mornings or the jeep needed paint? I hadn’t come here to harass troops. I opposed this war.” (The book’s nicely double-edged title says it all about his youthful self’s attitude.) Even so, he meets with ribbing, scorn and near-mutiny from many of his men. They come to accept him, though, and even to straighten up a little bit when he responds to a night attack by turning out wearing “steel pot and flak jacket and .45”—and nothing else. In this short account, Kidder concentrates on the absurdities of Army life, relating episodes in which he figures as a Yossarian surrounded by strange people who seem not to understand that what they’re doing is dangerous. The narrative, gracefully written and full of rueful, black humor, takes its time in gathering steam, but Kidder punctuates his leisurely account with zingers, like a scarifying letter to his onetime girlfriend, and bittersweet moments such as a visit to a Singapore brothel. Best of these is an encounter long after the war with one of his men, a Chicano boy who once reminded him in the field, “We can shoot you any time we want, Lieutenant.” The kid made it back home, only to return to Vietnam with the CIA.
A modest contribution compared to such classics such as Dispatches and A Rumor of War, but worthy of attention all the same.