cover image Nineteen Sixty Eight

Nineteen Sixty Eight

Joe Haldeman. William Morrow & Company, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-09023-4

Evoking painful nostalgia, Haldeman's (The Forever Wars) tragic and depressing novel chronicles a year in the life of Darcy ``Spider'' Speidel, a combatant in and victim of Vietnam. A teenage college dropout, Spider is drafted and sent to Nam as a combat engineer. Spider is just a scared, uncertain kid reluctantly playing the game of war for keeps; after he's wounded during the onset of the Tet offensive, he's evacuated back to the States, where his real war begins. His onetime sweetheart, embroiled in the hippy counterculture, has taken up with a new, draft-deferred boyfriend. Confused and helpless, the traumatized Spider lacks the support of even his doctors and his family. Haldeman uses bold language, powerful images and a graphic style to tell his emotional tale, in which concentrated, diary-like entries intensify the drama and despair. He also takes every opportunity to engage in social criticism, ranging from the conduct of the war to draft inequities, from the sexual revolution to the failings of military medical care. He even tries unconvincingly to resurrect the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Affecting and compelling on several levels, Spider's story may nevertheless strike readers as a Forrest Gump without any hope or inspiration. (June)