This month I read Matterhorn, a novel thirty-three years in the making by Karl Marlantes. You won't hear about this one on "Reading Rainbow," but the book is excellent, some of the best fiction I've read in a long time.
What impressed me the most about the book is how Marlantes articulates the spiritual struggle of the protagonist, a Marine lieutenant named Waino Mellas.
The author, himself a highly-decorated Marine combat veteran, informs the book with his own Vietnam experience. Marlantes' ability to describe these raw emotions is what makes this novel so brutally powerful. He is also humble and direct about the challenges of telling such a story.
"War is mostly drudgery," Marlantes explained. "Spreading wire and picking scabs and dumb shit like that. How do I write a novel that makes the reader really understand that about war and not bore the hell out of them?"
His words certainly engaged my imagination, so much that the following passage seems less like fiction and more like authentic prayer. I've never read anything quite like it. The scene happens after Mellas accidentally kills a fellow Marine:
There came a moment during the lull when Mellas, lost at the center of the swirling fog, knew beyond any ability to lie to himself that he had, indeed, killed Pollini--and he was overwhelmed by an emptiness that knocked him to his knees. Slumped in his wet hole, cocooned by two flak jackets, he broke. He was the butt of a cruel joke. God had given him life and must have laughed as Mellas used it to kill Pollini, to get a piece of ribbon to show proof of his worth. And it was his worth that was the joke. ...
Stripped to a scream, undressed to a cry of pain, he sobbed in anger at God in hoarse words that hurt his throat. He asked for nothing now, nor did he wonder if he'd been bad or good. Such concepts were all part of the joke he'd just discovered. He cursed God directly for the savage joke that had been played on him. And in cursing Mellas for the first time really talked with his God. Then he cried, but his cries were the rage and hurt of a newborn child, at last, however roughly, being taken from the womb. ...
What a great joke--that Mellas would probably get a medal for killing one of his own men. It seemed appropriate that the president would probably get reelected for doing the same thing on a far larger scale. Then a new voice within him started to laugh with God. ... He kept laughing, shaking his head in wonder at the world.
You can find more on Matterhorn by clicking here.