In A River in May, young Special Forces Lieutenant Francis Lopez, adopted from Mexico by a tragedy-stalked aristocratic family and schooled in France, flees his personal ghosts by going to Viet Nam. His life with a handful of US soldiers in a mountain basecamp, commanded by a captain who is unnaturally obsessed with the destruction of a rag-tag nearby village, supported by South Vietnamese troops who disappear when there are rumors of attack, is surrealistically harrowing. His ultimate attempt at redemption is even more so.
This is not beach reading, by any means. It's affecting stuff, graphic, by turns blackly humorous and horrifically sad. But this makes it well worth the read--and the ending had me turning pages late at night.
Author Edward Wilson, a Viet Nam veteran who served with the Special Forces, paints a setting so real you can feel the rats nibbling at your fingernails. His characters are living, breathing, bleeding, three-dimensional human beings, quirks, egos and all. And his war is the real thing--a cesspool of chaos and psychopathology, a logistical Catch-22 where idealism is near kin to cynicism, corruption is rewarded, betrayal is an everyday inconvenience, and the cruel play sadistic games unhampered and uncondemned. It is a world where the lucky survive, and come home to wonder what luck really is.
We live in a nervous, armed-to-the-teeth world where it is vital, I believe, to demystify war, to rethink heroism and question the wisdom of sending children to die in the service of political whimsy. A River in May does all this, with fine writing and a solid sense of story. It deserves to be on the shelf next to Tim O'Brien's books, and it should be required reading for anyone who votes.