Genre: Literary Fiction
Approximate word count: 65-70,000
Availability Kindle: YES Nook: YES DTB: YES
In 1995 Calling Crow, Paul Clayton’s first published book landed in the bookstores. This was the first of three historical fiction books on the Spanish Conquest of Florida. Yet, despite this success, he continued trying to find a home for his first novel based on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, written 20 years prior. It was a story he wanted people to read. Finally, he succeeded when St. Martin’s Press offered a contract and released the book in 2004. He’s since written another book, White Seed, another historical fiction. Carl Melcher is an example of a book gone out of print and now finding a second life through an author going the indie route after publication rights have reverted. Read the full account of Paul Clayton’s quest to see Carl Melcher published on the author’s website.
A coming-of-age novel of the 60s generation, Carl Melcher is a young Philadelphian, drafted after college doesn’t work out for him.
Tons of novels have been written about war. It seems like half of Hemingway’s oeuvre qualifies. Catch-22 and Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July are two classics. Some glorify war while others illustrate its absurdity.
Carl Melcher is one that shows the absurdity, but takes a more subtle approach than the over-the-top satire of Catch-22. Sometimes contrast can illustrate an idea better than repetition. Rather than continually showing the absurd, as Heller did in Catch-22, Clayton shows the contrasts. Many days Melcher is bored, working in the camp in the Vietnam jungle with no imminent danger. Even while on patrol it is usually a whole lot of no action. Yet the threat is always there and the sheer terror when attacked shows why war changes a soldier. Melcher’s changes are gradual – some good, some not, and some hard to judge – yet over the course of the novel the amount of change is immense.
It seems to me that Melcher’s experiences are probably more true to what the typical soldier in Vietnam actually experienced than most other Vietnam War novels. This makes its message both more powerful and more credible.
I found no significant issues
Rating: **** Four stars