Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
David Mulldune joined the United States Marine Corps in 1968 as a barely-formed 18-year-old high school dropout with no better options. This book is his account of the next two years, including a 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam. In the introduction, he says:
“I am hoping that what I have written will be the next best thing to actually being there. I hope it will give a taste of what it is like to go through it, and I hope it will change the way people look at war as a viable solution.”
Mulldune tells his story through a series of atomised anecdotes, many of which last no more than a paragraph or two. As a result, events shift suddenly from one point to another with no indication that one story has ended and another has begun. As a result, the book lacks any real sense of narrative. Mulldune’s habit of not indicating how much time passes between events only adds to the sense of disjunction.
While Mulldune makes explicit his choice not to give too much information about himself in order to make his experiences seem more universal, his fellow marines wind up being even greater ciphers than he is. Only a handful receive any kind of introduction or description (in one case, after having been referred to several times). Most other ‘characters’ drift in and out of the narrative with only the barest sense of being people.
What does come through with sometimes startling intensity, especially since some parts of the book were written forty years after the events they describe, is Mulldune’s anger. Mulldune rages at his superiors all the way up to the decision-makers in Washington, at the civilians who ‘steal’ the wives and girlfriends of servicemen or who suddenly discover deep anti-war convictions once they themselves are drafted. He despises both his incompetent ARVN allies and those of his fellow marines who never find themselves in combat. This anger, and the accompanying sorrow as he realises the sort of man he is becoming, provides a strong theme and emotional core to the book. It is, in all honesty, the only reason I continued reading all the way to the end.
Despite his goal, this seems to be a book that Mulldune wrote more for his sake than for the reader’s. While there certainly seems to be a compelling story in there, the book is desperately in need of another pass by an editor, both to string Mulldune’s vignettes together and to draw out more of the frightened, angry man, simultaneously less than twenty and a thousand years old, trying to tell us his story.