After reading about how Tim learned about the novel Matterhorn by Karl Melantes and then reading his review, I decided that this war book had to go on my list. I didn’t read it however, I listened to it. I’ve seen plenty of movies about the Vietnam War but I’ll admit, I never thought I’d be interested in reading about it. Reading or listening, Matterhorn is one intense novel.
The story begins with a very graphic incident of a leach being found where no leach belongs. (I had to actually look up leaches because I didn’t realize how horrible they can be.) We quickly learn about crotch rot, heating coffee in cans with explosives and living in a jungle with no food or water.
Yale educated, Second Leutenant Mellas, has volunteered with the Marines during the Vietnam War. He wants to believe that his reasons for volunteering are to build his resume.
Mr. Melantes immediately transports us into the jungle, to a mountain called Matterhorn, where we follow Mellas through his first three months in Vietnam. Mellas and his company, due to egos above them, are forced to survive for seven days on just a few days of rations. They are ordered to build barracks and then ordered to leave and build somewhere else. They are forced into ambushes for which they aren’t equiped. And although discouraged by losing limbs and lives, they march onward to finish the job that they have been ordered do complete.
There are quite a few battles raging throughout the story in addition to the war. Within the company, the racial unrest reflects the inequality at home. The captains and colonels making the strategic decisions are fighting their own political war as well, which makes me just as ill as the actual fighting. And throughout the story, Mellas has his own internal conflicts – did he try to save the wounded soldier because he wanted the medal? or because he cared? Can it be for both reasons? He spends a lot of time contemplating the war, his friendships and his past.
Mr. Melantes has written a war novel for men and women. Men love war scenes, right? I enjoyed these glimpses into war myself, but I may not have enjoyed the story as much without the complete development of the characters and their relationships with each other. I really cared for these ‘kids’ and was brought to tears several times.
When Matterhorn ends I wonder what happens to everyone. The story only covers the first three months, then what? What does Mellas become? What about the young men who begin their adulthood fighting in a war? I want to believe everyone gets out, but reality in war dictates that very few will come out alive or whole. If Mr. Melantes decides to write about the rest of Mellas’ tour, then my questions will be answered.
Tim: Hi, Anne. Hate to muscle in on your review here, but I just wanted to note that Karl Marlantes is reading tonight at The Tattered Cover in Denver. Which is where I am this week. Woohoo. Carry on.