Singley’s (The Bali Hai Enchantment Spa Murders, 2017, etc.) Vietnam War novel follows five soldiers at different points in the service cycle.
Spc. Jimmy Hogan—who received the nickname “Jungle Jimmy” for shooting a young, possibly unarmed Vietnamese man while relieving himself outdoors—is 10 months into his tour as part of an airborne infantry company, currently stationed near Tam Ky. His best friend, Cpl. Thomas Gaylord, is at a military hospital in Japan, where he’s recuperating from a grenade injury that cost him his hand. 1st Lt. Harry “Pineapple” Papeeko, whose feelings are increasingly turning against the war, is also hospitalized—but he’s back home in Hawaii, recovering from mental trauma. Former Spc. Jay Jager has gone home to West Virginia, where he was once persuaded by a judge to join the Army, after he committed a violent crime. Pfc. Chris “Cherry” Scott is also stationed near Tam Ky, and he’s still seen as “the new guy,” even though he’s seen combat; he’s also pining for his girlfriend back in Los Angeles. Each man bears the psychological scars of deployment, brought on by the constant fear of death and the repetitive counting of days until the end of a tour. Looming largest in their lives is an attack that happened on Mother’s Day—a day when everything went wrong, which forever shaped each man’s experiences of the war and all that came after. Singley’s prose is frank and wonderfully marbled with specificity, capturing the panicked tension that ticks away within each character: “Home was unreal, an anchor to the past, a place to be secure. Reality was here, in this black moment before dawn, reality was his damp fatigues and the stars slowly vanishing.” The book also has an episodic feel as the narration jumps from man to man, slowly revealing the connections that exist between them. It’s a purposefully unpleasant read at times—the racism, misogyny, violence, and general misanthropy of the soldiers is frequent and disturbing—but this fits in honestly with other books in its genre.
An unsettling, roving novel about trauma and soldiering.