CARL MELCHER GOES TO VIETNAM is about as unlikely a title for a book as one can imagine. It sounds like a running byline in a newspaper, or a children's 'learn about this' story, or something that borders on corny. But after reading Paul Clayton's very strong novel, the title could not seem more apt. This is the tale of a lad from Philadelphia who enters the military in the late 1960's when the nation was at war in Vietnam and the kids of that generation were being eaten by induction into training camps then shipped via classy commercial airlines to Vietnam where they adapted to one of the ugliest wars in our history: Vietnam was an enormous mistake and the young men sent there to die or serve their year In Country returned home with either physical or indelible mental wounds. Making the narrator of this book (that is so very real a look at that war called Vietnam) a simple, nondescript person brings a powerful Everyman theme to the book. Carl Melcher lands in Vietnam without much in the way of history, he likes to read Hermann Hesse, he gets along with most everyone despite the ethnic barriers superimposed on the inductees - he just wants to survive. Clayton creates a group of likeable characters, gives them time to bond, and then begins to send them out on patrols where slowly most everyone is consumed by the greed of the war effort. There is no beginning or end to this story and that is so sensitive on the part of Clayton, a man who gathered his information form his own tour of duty in the Nam. He writes in straight forward, simple prose, much the way one would expect Carl Melcher to observe the world. Unlike most authors who have written about the Vietnam experience, Clayton shies away from the crude expletives that served as pan-communication in Vietnam: there are few curse words (the common language then) and the writing almost benefits from this trait. Some of the African American characters have their persistent phrases that Clayton uses with both solid humor and intense agony. By keeping his story so free of 'special effects drama' the tragedies are more tragic, the moments of camaraderie are more true. This is a war story that concentrates more on the indomitable human spirit than on 'strike and fall back' episodes. Not that the brutality and hideous waste that abounded in Vietnam are not addressed: they are very present and terrifyingly memory jolting. Clayton, I think, prefers to give us a version of what war does to the young people of the world. Writing in this manner he gives us one of the more subtle and lasting antiwar novels in some years. Highly Recommended!