THE SHORT-TIMERS (Harper
& Row). Gustav Hasford captures the matter-of-fact horror and
endless noise in this terse spitball of a book--fine and real and terrifying.
The Vietnam War is starting
to deliver: Herr's non-fictional Dispatches found the peculiar character
of writing that this creepy conflict seems to require--and Hasford, in
a first, autobiographical novel, husks it right down to the kernel.
The narrator, a Marine combat correspondent nicknamed "Joker," does his
hitch during the Tet offensive and is involved in the out-and-out decimation
of Hue. One street operation involves a girl VC sniper who picks
off half of Joker's patrol: the only way to get her is to have a
tank blast the building down from beneath her. When she's finally
found and killed, one of the grunts cuts off her feet and drops them into
a plastic shopping bag full of feet: souvenirs. Hasford's artistry
makes this incredible even seem almost logical, and again and again he
does it--a rat-burning party, an ambush near Khe Sanh--the horror and noise
seems to stick in your throat like something sharp but inevitable.
Only the redemption of "short-time"--days left to go in this hell--keeps
the grunt sane, a terrible and hopeless clock. A terse spitball of
a book, fine and real and terrifying, that marks a real advance in Vietnam
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