As a method of catharsis, perhaps, or just as a way to break things up a little bit, I just need to get a few words down about a book I’ve recently finished that was not written (or co-written) by James Patterson: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. Balancing my Patterson social experiment with a Vietnam novel proved to be…relaxing, actually.
That’s not true, really, but Matterhorn is pretty incredible, nonetheless.
It a novel that highlights the utter futility, stupidity, and frustration that permeates modern warfare. It’s the story of a company of Marines, entrenched in the jungle of Vietnam, forced to protect, defend, abandon, attack, and hold a supposedly strategically significant mountain that rises above the treeline just south of the DMZ. These men fight, kill, and often die, at the whim of an alcoholic, glory-seeking Battalion Commander who watches and criticizes from afar. It is raw, yet elegant – powerful, yet humble; a remarkable book that forces a fresh perspective on a sad chapter in American history.
I was born in 1975 – a month and a half after Saigon fell – so there’s always been a bit of a mystique surrounding Vietnam for me, as one brought into life just as so many were exiting theirs. It has been a war that has left its indelible stamp on my generation – even though we were just barely getting started. Matterhorn, for me, is the most accurate, vivid, terrifying, frustrating, elegant novel of that war I have ever read.