Saturday, January 19, 2013

read: Matterhorn (4 stars)

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam WarMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gritty. Raw. Violent. Tender. Heroic. That's war. That's what this novel captures and conveys. For those of us fortunate enough to have never experienced it first-hand, this book takes the reader as close to the action as most of us would ever care to be. We've seen some of this on television and in film. Yet in many ways this novel makes it more intimate, more personal, more real.

The descriptions are spot on and tactile. Some situations make the reader squirm. The story is heartbreaking. Boys grow into men in no time at all. Strangers become brothers. And then some of them are dead. This is war. Victory is elusive. Glory is fleeting. Heroism is unsatisfying.

The narrative starts by following the story of a Marine lieutenant fresh out of boot camp. Mellas is out of his depth, and so is the reader. You're just starting to get acquainted with him and his viewpoint when the perspective shifts to that of another officer and his ruminations about Mellas and the situation. That should be well and good. A limited third-person narrative can use multiple viewpoints. But the author gets a little liberal in his 'head hopping', handing the baton to any convenient character and sometimes doing it in rapid fire within a scene. The narrative even slips into omniscient viewpoint, describing things from beyond any single person. The overall effect created a distance between this reader and the characters. A tighter focus might have created more intimacy.

This could have been a great book. As it is, it's still quite good and I would recommend it. Just be ready to put some effort into slogging through the jungle with these grunts.

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