Genre: Historical Fiction
Overall Review: Five Stars
Grammar and Proofreading: 5/5
Linguistics and Stylistics: 5/5
Plot Development: 5/5
Plot Pacing: 5/5
Character Development: 5/5
Ratings and Concerns: 18+ for violence, profanity, and graphic sexual scenes.
There are many myths and misconceptions about the Vietnam War, most of them perpetuated by Hollywood and propaganda from anti-war activists. I admit that for the first ten or so chapters of Danny Buoy’s Pachyderms, I found myself mentally comparing the book to Full Metal Jacket, a movie that almost satirizes the very real traumas faced by Vietnam vets. Whereas in Full Metal Jacket, a group of freshly-recruited Marines are tormented by a sadistic drill instructor (culminating into a graphic suicide scene), Pachyderms presents a more objective (but admittedly less Hollywood-friendly) side of the Vietnam War. The author, who himself is a Vietnam Vet according to his author profile, does not shy away from the realities of ‘Nam, but also does not humorize them for the sole purpose of entertainment. Nonetheless, there are a few scenes of humor that offset the more serious nature of the subject matter (one of the most memorable of these being the scene where one soldier gets a giant wooden splinter lodged in his butt cheek).
“Pachyderms” is a code name, but for what, you will have to read to find out. The novel, told in first person, recounts the military service of Danny Coobat (“Cooby”), a native of Nebraska who, fearful of being drafted, enrolls in college and then voluntarily enlists in the Army with the 5th Infantry Division, where he is employed first employed as a data-entry clerk and then later granted the title of Flight Operations Specialist. By the end of his service, he achieves E5 ranking. In Part 1, Cooby talks about his experiences in basic training. This is where the misconceptions presented in Full Metal Jacket are completely tossed out.With a few notable exceptions, Cooby has friendly, or at least professional, relations with both his fellow soldiers and his superior officers, and there is no mention of blanket parties or any of the other hazing rituals and foolishness seen in Full Metal Jacket. Cooby expresses deep admiration for the other members of his company (the 312th Flight Operation and the 713th Transportation companies). Parts 2 and 3 describe Cooby and his unit’s deployment to Vietnam and a year of service. Once again, these scenes are presented rather matter-of-factly, and I detected no hidden agendas or attempts to perpetuate the myths for entertainment or marketing purposes. Aside from his anger at the misinformation the public is being fed by both sides at home, Cooby appears to have very little opinion about the perceived political or financial motivations of the War, instead just choosing to focus on his job and the camaraderie of his Army buddies. He does, however, express very strong views about the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their home. The general public condemns them as ‘war-mongers’ and the government treats them with nearly depraved indifference.
I confess that at first, I had difficulty getting into the story because of all the unfamiliar military terms. I eventually found a good source online for reference, and after a quick brush-up, it was a lot easier. That’s when I discovered that I was over-analyzing; the terms themselves aren’t so vital to the story that one has to be a military expert to understand the plot (although the quick study did help me understand the story better). Pachyderms is more of a character-centered (as opposed to a plot-centered) story.
Cooby recounts the day-to-day routine of the unit, the usual discomforts of Army life (bad food, lack of privacy, scarce resources, etc.), and the frustrations of hunting down and avoiding attacks by “Charlie” (the code name for the elusive Vietnamese guerillas whose escalating ambush attacks went, over the course of the novel, from being a minor annoyance to a clear and present danger to the unit). There are also scenes where Cooby describes some of the less-than-gentlemanly aspects of military life: encounters with prostitutes, getting drunk and making a fool of himself (and waking up incredibly hungover), and obscenity being a normal part of the Army vocabulary (one character, for some reason, says “Kiss my d**k” almost every time he speaks). The resourcefulness of the soldiers is illustrated; one soldier starts a makeshift pizza stand. Additionally, Cooby effectively dispels the myth of the soldier being a mindless killing machine; he is a highly emotional character and isn’t afraid to admit it. This trait is highlighted when he loses a friend to a gruesome death, when he fears he will be separated from his friends during a duty rotation, and most notably, when he falls in love with a local woman and is subsequently heartbroken by her abandonment and betrayal.
A few things stood out about the author’s writing style. The first is that the plot flows flawlessly. The author knows precisely which scenes to delve into detail with and which ones to gloss over. The second is that he almost overdoses the book with comparatives (similes, metaphors, hyperbole). At first it bothered me, but then I just accepted it as his writing style. Finally, the narration of the story is natural. Some (but not all) of the military fiction I have read in the past came across as being either overly stuffy and formal (as if the writer were writing a textbook), condescending towards civilians who weren’t “in the know,” or just plain crude and graphic for no good reason. Pachyderms is none of the these, although the reader should be cautioned that there is some profanity, graphic violence, and a few graphic sex scenes.
I would highly recommend this book. Pachyderms is an excellent objective but realistic and very human account of the Vietnam War. Five Stars.
To buy: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Danny+Buoy&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Danny+Buoy&sort=relevancerank
For more information about the Vietnam War:
If you are interested in learning more about the plight of Vietnam veterans and/or offering assistance, check here: http://www.vva.org/