Ari­zona Moon: A Novel of Viet­nam

J. M. Gra­ham

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - GARY PRES­LEY

Naval In­sti­tute Press Hard­cover $26.95 (320pp) 978-1-68247-071-8

The novel’s beat­ing heart is the power, scope, and ram­i­fi­ca­tions of duty, loy­alty, and brother­hood.

In his in­tense and em­pa­thetic Ari­zona Moon, J. M. Gra­ham draws upon his own Viet­nam War ex­pe­ri­ences.

Cor­po­ral “Reach” Strader serves in a marine ri­fle pla­toon. Reach has “two days and a wake-up” un­til he ro­tates home, when a fel­low soldier, called Chief, is wounded—and blamed for the deaths of two other marines. That this is in er­ror is only ev­i­dent af­ter a he­li­copter car­ry­ing both sol­diers is shot down.

The pair must co­op­er­ate to sur­vive, and Chief must find his spirit pouch, a sa­cred tal­is­man that was stolen by an NVA soldier. Reach, trapped by the loy­alty forged by marines who fight and die to­gether, fol­lows Chief deeper and deeper into en­emy ter­ri­tory. The novel’s beat­ing heart is the power, scope, and ram­i­fi­ca­tions of duty, loy­alty, and brother­hood.

A sec­ond nar­ra­tive thread is con­cise, fo­cused, and nu­anced. For­mer stu­dent Truong Nghi has an ethos as un­break­able as any marine’s. He’s part of an NVA bat­tal­ion car­ry­ing sup­plies down the Ho Chi Minh trail. And a sec­ondary char­ac­ter, Lieu­tenant Diehl, also turns tropes up­side down, prov­ing to be calm and steady, re­ly­ing on the knowl­edge of sergeants, though he has a tem­per that comes “to the sur­face like hot magma.”

Ex­plor­ing its themes at a pace that never slack­ens, the story’s ten­sion, es­pe­cially dur­ing com­bat scenes, ratch­ets up so tightly at times that gun­shots seem to echo. The racial ten­sions that plagued the Viet­nam War are touched upon sym­bol­i­cally through the pla­toon’s wari­ness of Chief, who is tac­i­turn and who re­sists in­ter­ac­tion with oth­ers. He is per­ceived to move with an aura of sup­pressed vi­o­lence.

In­creas­ingly op­pres­sive and malev­o­lent as the con­flict in­ten­si­fies, the Viet­namese jun­gle be­comes a cin­e­matic set­ting, echo­ing noises fraught with dan­ger as il­lu­sions shift in the rain and mist be­tween en­e­mies and friends.

Ari­zona Moon is an in­tense study of men at war, with a re­strained and re­al­is­tic con­clu­sion.

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