Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Bangs and whimpers, August 23, 2012
This review is from: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Paperback)
Nineteen-year-olds with faces smeared by Kool-Aid. Some of their bodies will be heaped on a landing zone as Matterhorn will be taken, abandoned, and taken again by Marines near the Laotian border, fighting the North Vietnamese in 1969. Some of those bodies will be tossed down that mountain, forming a garbage heap amidst flies. Out of this scenario, Karl Marlantes cleanly delineates the conflict as felt and endured by Lt. Mellors, during his first two months leading his men.

The bang and the whimper of T.S. Eliot resonate when he's in his hospital bed late in the novel. The languid tone in the final chapters shifts away form battle, but it fits the moods of the lieutenant as he finds himself away from the firefights and mud. Most of the tale, he's in the thick of it, learning.

Long as it is, this story flows movingly to express the coming-to-terms of young men from the ranks, the racial conflicts, the terror and strategy and giddiness in darkness and combat. More than any other war novel I've read, it conjures up the isolation amid the squad, and the intricacy of what comes down and up the chains of command. (Learn more in the non-fictional companion to this, "What It Is Like To Go To War," reviewed by me Sept. 3, 2012.)

A glossary and endnotes help the civilian reader, but I read the entire novel on e-book before finding this. Marlantes integrates the material well, slang and jargon, acronyms and protocol. It's clear that his twenty-five years of labor on this narrative have resulted in an epic, but one that does not lose sight of the delicacy amid the fury.

The shadows pass over the jungle, some wounded await mortars that will kill them and others wait for deliverance. The Marines never abandon their dead and wounded, and this novel shows you how, where, and why this fidelity always has endured, no matter what the war.
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