WHERE THE RIVERS RAN BACKWARD by William E. Merritt

WHERE THE RIVERS RAN BACKWARD

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

From a Portland, Ore., attorney, an evocative memoir of Army duty in Vietnam. Merritt shapes his narrative out of one- or two-page vignettes that fairly fly from his pages in nitty-gritty staccato salvos. These vignettes--a loose jumble of inane, surreal, or violent images--are punctuated by snippets from the lyrics of rock 'n' roll songs of the time that underline his canny evocation of the era and its lingo (which he reproduces so well in dialogue; noting a giant bright dagger painted on a truck, one G.I. remarks, "That's some weird shit, man. Somebody'd have to be a real dufous mother to be painting some shit like that on a tank barrel"). Merritt had been placed in an engineering company that used him for guard duty while huddled in cramped bunkers peering out at the night through the blurred, surreal-green mists or a nightscope, and for hauling G.I. garbage from countless mess halls to final resting places in huge trucks. Boredom often ruled, but it was overcome daily by a "mad minute" when soldiers would blast out beyond their perimeter and empty their rifles over innocent space. Merritt manages to slip an occasional apercu among his gutter re-creations, as when he observes, in describing his arrival at Cu Chi, how the place appeared to be "an orderly Western foothold in a shimmering wilderness. Outside everything was soft and fecund. Muted colors and deceptive shapes. Shapes to hide an army. Shapes not friends to Americans." The memoir ends with him standing at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, where he leafs through a book of death lists to ensure that the "sons of bitches had missed me." A gutsy and finely accurate portrayal of a grunt's life in that divisive Asian war.

ISBN: 8203-1107-3
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:




MORE BY WILLIAM E. MERRITT