Monday, April 5, 2010

Novel more than just a good story

I love a long car ride.

I love it when I'm driving. My husband and kids put in their ear buds and we pass the miles in silence. Aaah.

And I love it when he's driving because then I can immerse myself in a book without feeling guilty over all the undone household chores.

So while I was a bit perturbed that our drive to visit my parents over the Easter weekend took place on the two beautiful sunny days and our day of visiting was cold and rainy, the sunshine did allow me to catch up on some reading.

I have to start with "Matterhorn," by Karl Marlantes.

I was blown away by this novel of the Vietnam War.

I confess it's not a topic generally in my wheelhouse when selecting a book. I picked it up because I thought I understood my mom to say it was being touted as required reading for those studying this war. (As it turns out, that's actually "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien.)

But I am so glad I was confused.

Marlantes is a decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam and spent 30 years crafting this novel.

It's long (566 pages), but it really does fly by when you're engrossed in the plight of these Marines.

Marlantes drops the reader in to the bush much as a Marine must have been. There's minimal scene-setting and character background. But as the Marines of "Matterhorn" say, There it is.

His pacing keeps you on edge, echoing the constant stress the characters are under.

"Matterhorn" mixes the unspeakable horror of war with the unbreakable bonds it forges among those at its core.

As Marlantes writes of his main character Mellas:

"He ran as he'd never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this wast he only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them. He ran directly at the bunker where the grenades from Jake's M-79 were exploding."

It is unimaginable that this is written of a boy barely out of his teens.

It is unimaginable that there is a thirst so great that you will lick the dew off a rifle.

It is unimaginable that a man can push on after having witnessed such atrocities.

But, There it is.

This novel left its mark. And now I really have to read O'Brien's work.

- Tricia Ambrose

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