4 out of 4 stars
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This is a war story. Kind of. Although on the surface it may seem like Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam by Charles L. Templeton is simply another tale about the jungle and skies of Vietnam, it is so much more. By picking this book up, you are stepping back to the 70s, the South China Sea, and all the tumult that comes with it.
On its most basic level, this book follows a group of men in the United States Marine Corps stationed, and fighting out of, the Hue-Phu Bai CH-46 helicopter squadron. As you would expect from a book on this conflict, there are firefights, encounters with the North Vietnamese, rescue missions, and misery. But as alluded to earlier, there is so much more to this book than the fighting. The gang of Marines is often getting into trouble, deliberating over a drink or a joint, and genuinely trying to survive their time in Vietnam. These myriad conversations provide the reader with ample commentary on the conflict, social discourse on key issues of the times (racism, religion, etc.), and much more. The book is both deep and extremely shallow at the same time; its profundity is expertly hidden in the potty-mouth conversations of Marines at war.
There was so much to love about this book. Templeton has a way with words that I have rarely seen in a writer of this genre. An author is usually proficient in writing dialogue, action, or visual depictions of both nature and characters, but rarely all three. This author is clearly the exception that proves the rule. What I liked the most, however, was the way the author deliberately weaves between the three. In parts of the book, he describes a situation, wraps up a conversation between key characters, and then sometimes even glides into an alternate reality based on classical literature. Characters and their current situation are even likened to the immortal greats like Don Quixote tilting at a windmill or David getting ready to swing at Goliath.
I usually don't dedicate a whole paragraph to a single (extremely minor) character, but I think it is important here for a variety of reasons. First, it gives an example of this writer's brilliance. Second, it serves as a caution to not give up on the book in the first couple of chapters. A character appears in the story every now and then throughout the novel that is a bit out of the ordinary. It first shows up in the second chapter, where I promptly began thinking that the author was a little crazy. The next time it showed up, I realized that Templeton might just be a genius instead. Every subsequent time that Lomax, the one-eyed cockroach, showed up to provide an omniscient fly-on-the-wall (cockroach-on-the-wall?) perspective, I knew it was the latter.
The only thing I disliked about this book, and evidently what I disliked the most, was the beginning. With all the skill that the author possesses, he pulled out all the literary stops from the very first chapter. There was a tiny bit of an introduction to the characters at hand, a lot of literary prose, and a confused reader that was just trying to get a handle on the book. I would have preferred to get a foothold into the story before Templeton demonstrated how amazingly he can write. The picky reader could easily get lost in the text in the first two or three chapters and abandon the book before they get to the rest of the amazing story.
I think by now, dear reader, you have guessed that I will be giving this book top marks and a full 4 out of 4 stars. The author's literary prowess and his commentary on the Vietnam War, all based on his own experiences during the conflict, merit that rating if not more. This book was extremely well written and edited as I only came across two very minor errors in the entire book. I highly recommend this book to readers of historical fiction and those that enjoy books about Vietnam or the 70s. Younger and sensitive readers, however, should steer clear of this one as it is full of no-holds-barred wartime violence, graphic language, and sexual discussions/situations. Lastly, it is worth noting that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to two different organizations, including the Semper Fi Fund that provides resources for injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam
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