Anyone who has read a few of the many novels/ fictionalised memoirs that have come out of the Vietnam war will recognise (a little tiredly perhaps) the use of the well-worn tropes that the story includes -- the cut-off ear dangling from a neck chain as a trophy; the evil, blood-thirsty commanding officer; the resilient integrity of the badly wounded Vietnamese cadre; the cowardly helicopter pilots and so on. Like many other Vietnam war novels, there seems to be a need to include as many instances as possible of what have consequently become familiar images -- perhaps as a sort of catharsis for the writer. The unfortunate consequence of this is that it occasionally trips the story up into too many episodes of (familiar) horror which almost interrupt the narrative flow .
But it would be wrong to dismiss this powerful piece of writing for the inclusion of a few stylistic cliches and familiar instances of plot-colour. How much A River in May is a piece of cathartic writing based on experiences from the author's own life only he can say. What is apparent to the reader is how this story -- overall -- is really unlike any other Vietnam war book. Or unlike almost any other war novel come to that.
The denouement really is shocking and it really does continue to resonate after the book is closed.
Entirely different from any of the normal pantheon -- Herr's Dispatches; Wright's Meditations In Green; Mason's Chickenhawk; any of Tim O'Brien's books -- this one, as other reviewers have quite rightly pointed out, can stand its ground against any of them. It is reminded me a lot of Wolff's 'In Pharoah's Army'. It is as well written and as perceptive; as fluid (bar one or two episodic judders) and as powerful a piece of writing.