By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA
By Charles D. Jones
Chopper Blues is a memoir as well as a memorial to the ill-fated Vietnam War – a war largely misunderstood and rarely depicted in the visionary and personal way that this author, and survivor, has written, painted and filmed it.
What makes Jones' book so unusual is the visceral focus on how human beings, men and women, soldier and civilian, behave under extreme pressure. In photographs, poetry, prose and journalism, the author takes us to a time and place that has been both deliberately remembered and indifferently forgotten.
The reader's ticket to hell, so to say, comes in hypnotic, multiform images including graphic woodcuts, drawings, and paintings by Jones whose work is weirdly reminiscent of Goya. As author and poet as well as painter, Jones takes us through the three years in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, for which he received the Silver Star.
This is a singular work of varied artistry that strikes the reader and viewer in so many different places – emotional, psychological and philosophical – all at the same time.
The villages and schools shown in the book (as the cover copy states): ...vanished shortly after the camera's flash. For the first time ever, members of Suicide Charley tell the story of their time in Vietnam.
The experience revealed in this book is like walking through the illusory looking glass of Lewis Carroll. Alternately touching, endearing, frightful, fearsome, riveting, and always compelling.
One wonders how a platoon commander could tell and re-tell this tale of a world that, in a hallucinatory sense, never existed – but for one long hellish moment on earth. By that I mean to say, it has rarely been seen or said in this illuminating way – as dream, diorama, dialogue, poetry, prose and some of the finest color paintings of wartime ever painted by a soldier. I have to say, you must see it to believe it.
The book is dedicated to the men who served and it is their story as much as the author's own. He honors them as he reveals what they saw and suffered. Company C, First Battalion, Seventh Marines lives on in these pages.
BORDERLAND: A Kyle Dawson Novel
By Peter Eichstaedt
In all of the suspense mystery novels I have read there is a point of entry, usually a murder, followed by a mysterious middle ground where the clues are muddied as much as possible, and then, when the water clears, a suspect, followed by another suspect, the two sort of playing off each other. There can be a third or fourth suspect as the novel deepens.
Between interviews with suspects there are usually love interests and a scattering of irrelevant details and eccentricities.
This novel does not follow the usual pattern. It veers away from formula. Instead it dives right into the darkness. This is a country of no return. In this case, Juarez, Mexico, and the El Paso side so temptingly near.
Eichstaedt's provoking way of handling mystery is to base the whole story, not on narrator rumination, but icy, interesting dialogue. The reader, this one anyway, feels he is reading a film script.
I have worked on a few such and it seems to me the whole trick is in having the dialogue become a series of beats. Da-dum. Da-dum. You get a beat every time a clue pops up or a character reveals something salient to plot.
What happens in Borderland is a series of fast-moving, highly realistic, conversations that come off as the real thing. After a little while you forget you're reading a novel or a script – you are just listening to people talk.
The scenes move quickly too. And the reader doesn't stay in one locale for more than a few minutes before he is whisked off to another one. Da-dum.
Add to the quick pace the seriousness of the subject matter, which is the borderland of greased wheels, politics, poverty, hustle and gristle ... add to this very large sums of money, tricky bankers and two characters who might very well be the same ones tweeting and shooting in your neighborhood news, and you have Borderland, the novel.
Only it isn't a novel. I have reason to believe it's all quite real, the names changed to protect the guiltless and the guilty.
This is a fun read. But it won't make you any less restive about the borderline or the denizens and dough that get shuffled back and forth. And no wall will stop it as long as the money is good.