Sunday, July 31, 2011

Freytag's Pyramid In Action: Book Review: Matterhorn

I just read a book by Karl Marlantes, "Matterhorn." Oy, vey ist mir! What a book!

It's about Marines in Vietnam in 1969, and I can tell you frankly that it would have been impossible for me to read this book until fairly recently. When the wound was too fresh it would have been just impossible, I was not able to consider these things at all. Vietnam, I don't know how old you are, or what your attitude was about the whole Vietnam War thing if you were around at the time, or how you handled it, but me? I turned eighteen in 1966, prime time baby. I was scared shitless by Vietnam, scared to go, scared of what it meant, scared by what it did to my friends, scared, scared, scared. Scared enough to join the Navy, anything for three-hots-and-a-cot. But now, I can deal with it, better anyway. It was long ago, after all.

I think it was the same for the author. "Matterhorn" was written by Karl Marlantes. He was a Marine officer himself, back in the day. He went to Vietnam, and he did the Marine thing. He didn't write the book though, at least he didn't finish it and publish it, until 2010. Forty years. So maybe he couldn't come to grips with it until recently either.

But the book, it's a great read. Great characters, great dialog, very measured and well-plotted, real literature this one. And boy, does it ever follow Freytag's Pyramid like a fucking road map! I discovered Freytag's Pyramid long ago, and ever since it has been my yardstick for measuring the success of a narrative. That old Freytag, he really knew his shit. I don't know how to do graphics, so I'll describe it:

The ascending arm of the pyramid is exposition and rising action; somewhere around the apex there comes a climax; then comes descending action and resolution; followed by a catastrophe; the end.

There's a ton of stuff about old Freytag's Pyramid on these Internets. You should look some of it up, it's great to get some insight into the form of the narrative, especially if you enjoy reading fictional narratives as I do.

And I'll tell you right now, if you think you're strong enough to take a description of what was really going on in old Vietnam back in that Time Of Woe, if you think that you are constitutionally up to following the story of a lot of Baby-Boomers who may or may not have grown all the way up, who found themselves in Vietnam in a really, really bad situation, well, this is the book to read. This one right here. Since I've gotten over the terror of it all I've read a lot of prissy wannabe bullshit novels and story-collections and so-called reportage about Vietnam, but this book is the first thing that I've read about that cosmic cluster fuck that really captures the weird tensions that pulled my generation in so many different directions all at once, simultaneously.

Oh, thank God that there are people in our own time of digital diffusion who can still muster the energy and discipline required to finish writing an actual novel of actual words that can match the accomplishments of the giants of the past. Mister Marlantes, sir, I salute you!


Anonymous said...

Life is too short to read fiction.

fred c said...

So read short stories, or just cut out the middle man and read book reviews.