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Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam: A Novel [Hardcover]

Paul Clayton
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 15 2004
he year is 1968. Like thousands of other American boys, Carl Melcher is drafted and sent to Vietnam. Although his new company is infected with the same racial tensions plaguing the nation, Carl makes friends on both sides of the color line. Naively over-optimistic, Carl believes that karma and good intentions will save him and his friends, but then fate intervenes to teach Carl the real meaning of life and death. Gripping and poignant, this is an illuminating portrait of the Vietnam War written by a man who was there. Originally self-published as an e-book, this gritty novel was short-listed as a 2001 Frankfurt e-book Award Finalist along with works by Joyce Carol Oates and David McCullough.

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Product Description

From 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.
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Review

"Echoes of Joseph Heller's CATCH-22, written about an earlier war, are seen in the surrealism of the scene, which Carl himself describes as a comic book cutout, a brutal illumination of his childhood games."
- KnowBetter.com

"Drawn from the author's own experience as an Army soldier in Vietnam, Clayton deftly portrays an innocent abroad in the development of his protagonist, the likable but naive Carl Melcher."
- BookPage

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Customer Reviews

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4.0 out of 5 stars Filling in the blanks of the Viet Nam Experience July 19 2004
Format:Hardcover
But for the fact that I was born female, I would have been drafted during the Viet Nam War. I often wonder how and if I would have survived. Many friends and clasmates either went or figured out a way not to go. Some did not return and those who did were often changed. Few of those who did return talked about it. You stand at the Viet Nam Wall in Washington and wonder about the stories behind each name and wonder what it was really like; what really happened; how did were the lives of those who survived changed; what part of themselves did they leave in Viet Nam? After reading CARL MELCHER GOES TO VIETNAM, in some small way I feel that I can fill in some of the blanks.
The story is short but intense. It tells the story of one man's experiences in the war, his brushes with fate and his ultimate survival. The first two thirds of the book sets up the plot and develops the character of Carl Melcher. I'm sure that his character is representative of many young men who went to the Nam. The story pulls together in the last third of the book and the reader does a great deal of speculating about "what if" - what choices were made for Carl and what choices did he make himself.
Many of the characters are representative. I felt that the character of Carl's Vietnamese girl friend could have been a bit more developed. However, perhaps the author wanted to give her an almost dream like image - was she really real of a figment of Carl's imagination - part of his love hate relationship with Viet Nam.
One of the other reviewers suggested that this work would be excellent for students who did not live through the Viet Nam experience. I totally agreee with that. It allows the read to "live" Viet Nam, to smell the smells and feel the heat. The story is not new. But it gives a real insight into a war that continues to fascinate the American people and will be the subject of continued writing for generations to come.
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5.0 out of 5 stars TOUR DE FORCE Dec 27 2003
Format:Paperback
I want to know why this novel hasn't been purchased by a large publishing house and mass marketed. Paul Clayton put his heart and soul into the writing of this book, yet somehow managed to keep enough distance from his subject to allow him to craft his work with dispassion and objectivity. Clayton served in Vietnam, and maybe there are more than a few autobiographical incidents in this novel. The prose borders on being minimalist, especially the dialogue, and that's what really works in Clayton's favor as he depicts the every day existence of what it was really like to be a grunt in Nam. (In some ways his writing style reminds this reader of Raymond Carver). The tone is serious, the characters very real. The protagonist, Carl Melcher, is just an ordinary, average citizen soldier that comes to Vietnam to fulfil his obligation to Uncle Sam. Along the way he makes friends and loses friends. It's a great coming of age novel in that Melcher also loses his innocence. An endearing character due to his naivete and willingness to accept his fellow grunts on their own terms, Melcher ends up being just another emotional casualty by the time he gets back to the "world." I am a high school teacher and would love to have a set of this novel in our bookroom. If the cost were not prohibitive, I'd buy a class set myself. I can see high school students eating this up. The language, the dialogue, and the logical flow of events carry you along effortlessly, and when you finish, you're left with a whole lot to think about. Thanks for serving, Paul, and thanks for writing this powerful little book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars AuthorZone.Com Book Review Oct. 10 2003
Format:Paperback
Carl Melcher Goes To Vietnam takes us along on a journey with fictional draftee Carl Melcher. In 1968 when much of this country was in turmoil filled with both racial tension and anti war movement Carl finds members of his new Army company are not unlike those he left at home. This 'coming of age' narrative by author Clayton presents a rather likeable, although naïve youngster who, along with most of contemporaries is little prepared to face the reality of war. Carl faces the alternating boredom and tension, the unpredictable nature of the situation, the enemy often largely unseen and the worry for forming friendships only to have them end as I have heard my Green Beret husband discuss.
In Carl Mercer Goes To Vietnam Writer Clayton draws on his own experience in Vietnam to present the reader with understanding of what it was to be 'in country' during the most difficult of times. Men on DEROS, yearly rotation, had little time to acclimate themselves with the horror of war or the reality that much of time is spent not in ducking bullets but in sheer boredom of 'garrison duty' out in whatever camp where they lived in the jungle.
Very akin to David Hackworth's revelations in his book, About Face, writer Clayton points out, the 'coping with the situation' problems the men faced there in the jungle in South East Asia were not necessarily left there when they returned to 'The World.' Clayton presents a bit of insight into why so many more Vietnam vets seem to have returned to the US ill prepared to reenter society. This is a book I will suggest to my sons who never had a chance to really know their father. This work may help them better understand the man who screamed each night before he died at age 37 while they were still children.
Carl Mercer Goes To Vietnam is filled with the same excellent writing as is found in writer Clayton's Calling Crow series.
Excellent read, recommended
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