A Lovely Country

David Lawton, Author
David Lawton, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $22 (272p) ISBN 978-0-15-100171-2
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
Hardcover - 262 pages - 978-0-15-100118-7
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Of all the wars this country has waged, the one in which the concepts of grace and honor seem the most out of place is Vietnam. This flaccid first novel's attempts to yoke them together is its most intriguing element. Giles Trent, a political operative at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon in the early 1970s, is a throwback--an Ivy Leaguer and a charter member of what he calls ``the cult of imperturbability.'' Although we're told Giles loves his host country, Lawton has a tough time describing exactly how--it seems he's simply gotten used to it. Giles's unflappability is put to the test by his corrosive assignments--leading reconnaissance units in the field, expressing unofficial condolences to the Vietnamese mistress of a recently deceased American adviser, delivering a suitcase full of money to a potential presidential candidate to assure at least the appearance of democracy in South Vietnam. It's also tested by a new journalist on the block, Emily Macdonnell. Asked by his boss to court Emily, Giles pursues her with his customary lack of elan. Their ensuing relationship, which ideally should rile up the guy, instead deadens Emily. She tells Giles, ``I'll always remember you,'' but we know better--Giles is eminently forgettable. Lawton, who served in Vietnam as a Marine and later as a civilian officer in the pacification agency, is thoroughly versed in the milieu of wartime Saigon, but his writing is as uninspired as his lead character. Author tour. (Apr.)
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