CARL MELCHER GOES TO VIETNAM

Paul Clayton, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $22.95 (197p) ISBN 978-0-312-32903-7

Clayton offers a solid albeit familiar account of the horrors of war in his debut, a Vietnam coming-of-age novel that tracks the fortunes of a young man from Philadelphia named Carl Melcher through his difficult tour. The first half of the book remains fairly static as Melcher drops out of college, ends up in the service and draws a relatively benign assignment away from the fighting, allowing Clayton to develop the various stock characters in Melcher's squad. The action heats up when Melcher begins to go out on patrol, then turns white hot around the time of the Tet offensive as the quiet, affable protagonist goes through a series of tense but predictable close calls. When Melcher falls in love with a local Vietnamese girl, the novel almost breaks from genre formula, but Clayton comes closer to innovation during the closing chapters after Melcher is wounded and mulls the possibility of self-mutilation in a Japanese hospital to keep from going back into battle as his tour winds down. Clayton's simple prose remains balanced and effective throughout, but the novel has far too many familiar scenes, from the obligatory subplot about an experienced GI who gets killed just before his tour ends to the predictable infighting among squad members and some stereotypical material about clueless officers. Clayton's strong character writing carries the book, though, and he gets mileage from underplaying Melcher's reaction to the daily horrors. Agent, Jay Acton Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 228 pages - 978-1-4681-3099-7
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