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Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam

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Overview

"The year is 1968. Like thousands of other American boys, Carl Melcher is drafted and sent to Vietnam. Over there, he sees life at its strangest, most beautiful, and most bestial. Most times, the war raged far away - strange flickerings of light in the night sky, rumbling noises like thunder. Sometimes it grew so quiet that it seemed as if there was no war at all. And when least expected, the war would leap out of nowhere like a beast, with its blood-smeared, stainless-steel teeth and claws." "Although Carl's new company is infected with the same ...
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Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam

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Overview

"The year is 1968. Like thousands of other American boys, Carl Melcher is drafted and sent to Vietnam. Over there, he sees life at its strangest, most beautiful, and most bestial. Most times, the war raged far away - strange flickerings of light in the night sky, rumbling noises like thunder. Sometimes it grew so quiet that it seemed as if there was no war at all. And when least expected, the war would leap out of nowhere like a beast, with its blood-smeared, stainless-steel teeth and claws." "Although Carl's new company is infected with the same racial tensions plaguing the nation, he manages to make friends on both sides of the color line. Meanwhile the war picks off its victims one by one. Naively optimistic, Carl believes that karma and good intentions will save him and his friends, but then fate intervenes to teach him the real meaning of life and death." Author Paul Clayton was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1968, where he served with an infantry line company in the 4th Infantry Division in central highland of Pleiku Province. Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam is a portrait of the Vietnam War written by a man who was there.
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Editorial Reviews

Marc Leepson
What sets this novel apart is Melcher's voice. Clayton portrays Carl Melcher as a mild-mannered naif -- a guy who, to his bafflement, is constantly buffeted by life's big currents. "Things just happen to me," Melcher says, "as if I have no say, and then I react." That is a far cry from most first-person war novel protagonists, who tend to be jaded iconoclasts who make things happen to other people.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Clayton offers a solid albeit familiar account of the horrors of war in his debut, a Vietnam coming-of-age novel that tracks the fortunes of a young man from Philadelphia named Carl Melcher through his difficult tour. The first half of the book remains fairly static as Melcher drops out of college, ends up in the service and draws a relatively benign assignment away from the fighting, allowing Clayton to develop the various stock characters in Melcher's squad. The action heats up when Melcher begins to go out on patrol, then turns white hot around the time of the Tet offensive as the quiet, affable protagonist goes through a series of tense but predictable close calls. When Melcher falls in love with a local Vietnamese girl, the novel almost breaks from genre formula, but Clayton comes closer to innovation during the closing chapters after Melcher is wounded and mulls the possibility of self-mutilation in a Japanese hospital to keep from going back into battle as his tour winds down. Clayton's simple prose remains balanced and effective throughout, but the novel has far too many familiar scenes, from the obligatory subplot about an experienced GI who gets killed just before his tour ends to the predictable infighting among squad members and some stereotypical material about clueless officers. Clayton's strong character writing carries the book, though, and he gets mileage from underplaying Melcher's reaction to the daily horrors. Agent, Jay Acton Literary Agency. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1968, 18-year-old draftee Carl Melcher has been sent to Vietnam. An undersized, naive loner and budding intellectual, he confronts the unreal existence of violence, drugs, and racial hostilities at a firebase where danger is only a few yards away. Carl and his buddies just want to get through their year on duty, while their gung-ho company commander wants to attack and kill the enemy. This is a fast-paced but curious narrative: while there is violence, it is largely bloodless, even dispassionate, which makes the events somewhat surreal. And there is absolutely no swearing, however mild, which is totally improbable. Still, the characters are well drawn, and the reader will get a good sense of a young man's daily existence in unimaginable circumstances. Clayton served in the Fourth Infantry Division in 1968, so it is fair to assume that his debut novel, previously self-published as an e-book, is at least semiautobiographical. For larger collections.-Robert Conroy, Warren, MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A young GI goes to fight in Vietnam, in an originally self-published first novel. Carl Melcher dislikes army life from the start but after a while comes to depend on its traditions and routines. A quiet and somewhat bookish kid from Philadelphia, Carl was drafted when he broke up with his girlfriend, flunked out of the state university, and lost his college exemption. After basic and infantry training on the West Coast, he shipped out with the 4th Division in 1968 and landed in Pleiku Province in South Vietnam. Like everyone else in B Company, Carl is literally counting the days (365 of them, to be exact) until his tour of duty ends and he can go home. Not quite as weird as M*A*S*H, Company B has its share of eccentrics and characters: Gene-the-Doc, the company medic, is a conscientious objector who turns Carl on to Hermann Hesse, while Carl's squad leader Ron preaches that the war is a plot to rid Asia and America of their surplus populations. After a relatively cushy assignment at base camp, Company B gets sent into "the boondocks," where jungle patrols, mortar bombardments, and sniper attacks are the order of the day. Later, posted to guard a floating bridge in a quiet provincial town, Carl comes to know the Vietnamese and falls in love with a village girl named Chantal. Clayton has a good feel for the mundane basics of army life-the paperwork, petty rivalries, endless succession of eventless days broken by sudden eruptions of chaos-and he writes de profundis from the perspective of the troops for whom the war is a daily chore without any overriding strategy or meaning. Although he survives, Carl is essentially unchanged at the end and exhibits no real emotions save the relief thatcomes at the end of the day. Intriguing but flat: Clayton, whose debut was a 2001 Frankfurt e-book Award Finalist, paints a portrait of external features and invests them with little by way of depth, development, or nuance. Agent: Jay Acton/Theta Publishing Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591133001
  • Publisher: Booklocker.com, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 196
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Clayton was born in 1948, drafted in 1968, and sent to Vietnam in September of that year. He served with an infantry line company in the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of Pleiku Province. After the army, Clayton went to Temple University in Philadelphia where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature in 1976. He currently lives and works in California.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 31, 2014

    It was entertaining.

    Pretty much the same as the other Vietnam war books I'VE read

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  • Posted May 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic Vietnam War-era read!

    I have read a lot of Vietnam War-era fiction, many by war veterans, and Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam is by far one of my favorites. Admittedly, there was probably an extra level of enjoyment on my part because of the fact that I spent almost 14 years as an active duty Army soldier myself. There was something very human about this novel, something that made it more realistic than many of the novels I have read set in this era.

    The novel is written in the first person from the point of view of the title character, Carl Melcher, a naive 18 year old drafted into the Army and the Infantry. In his telling of the story, there was a lot of explanation of basic terms (like "Charley" and "R&R") that most of us already know the meaning of, but that just added to the youth of Carl. Personally, I think Melcher is an accurate representation of the average soldier in Vietnam, as in other wars. He's a young kid, drafted into the war, and largely naive as to what that means. He spends most of his ToD in places that don't put him in imminent danger, leaving him bored and doing many of the countless details that are a part of a deployment. But over it all is the constant threat and fear of what could happen next. Over the course of the novel, Melcher changes as he goes through love and loss.

    Because of the subject matter, it may not be the book for everyone. It isn't a happy book, but it isn't all sad, either. I personally loved it, although it almost feels wrong to "love" a book about war. But I couldn't put it down, completely engrossed and involved with the story and the characters. I recognize that the fact that I am an Army vet, married to a deployed soldier, may have heightened the experience for me, but even aside from that, this was an excellent book.

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  • Posted March 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam

    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.

    **Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog.**

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2010

    Not recommended

    For a novel, this read as more of a personal reminiscence, and a rather boring one at that. It had no plot and no continuity. The characters were poorly developed. The book seemed to have no point. If you are looking for a good book about Viet Nam, there are far better choices than this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2004

    EVERYMAN and War: The Sanctity of the Human Spirit

    CARL MELCHER GOES TO VIETNAM is about as unlikely a title for a book as one can imagine. It sounds like a running byline in a newspaper, or a children's 'learn about this' story, or something that borders on corny. But after reading Paul Clayton's very strong novel, the title could not seem more apt. This is the tale of a lad from Philadelphia who enters the military in the late 1960's when the nation was at war in Vietnam and the kids of that generation were being eaten by induction into training camps then shipped via classy commercial airlines to Vietnam where they adapted to one of the ugliest wars in our history: Vietnam was an enormous mistake and the young men sent there to die or serve their year In Country returned home with either physical or indelible mental wounds. Making the narrator of this book (that is so very real a look at that war called Vietnam) a simple, nondescript person brings a powerful Everyman theme to the book. Carl Melcher lands in Vietnam without much in the way of history, he likes to read Hermann Hesse, he gets along with most everyone despite the ethnic barriers superimposed on the inductees - he just wants to survive. Clayton creates a group of likeable characters, gives them time to bond, and then begins to send them out on patrols where slowly most everyone is consumed by the greed of the war effort. There is no beginning or end to this story and that is so sensitive on the part of Clayton, a man who gathered his information form his own tour of duty in the Nam. He writes in straight forward, simple prose, much the way one would expect Carl Melcher to observe the world. Unlike most authors who have written about the Vietnam experience, Clayton shies away from the crude expletives that served as pan-communication in Vietnam: there are few curse words (the common language then) and the writing almost benefits from this trait. Some of the African American characters have their persistent phrases that Clayton uses with both solid humor and intense agony. By keeping his story so free of 'special effects drama' the tragedies are more tragic, the moments of camaraderie are more true. This is a war story that concentrates more on the indomitable human spirit than on 'strike and fall back' episodes. Not that the brutality and hideous waste that abounded in Vietnam are not addressed: they are very present and terrifyingly memory jolting. Clayton, I think, prefers to give us a version of what war does to the young people of the world. Writing in this manner he gives us one of the more subtle and lasting antiwar novels in some years. Highly Recommended!

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    Posted November 10, 2012

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    Posted February 9, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2011

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