Most war novels attempt to describe the experiences of war, and, perhaps significantly, few novels have attempted description of the Vietnam conflict. Most successful works, such as Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (1978), have been aimed at adult audiences. The achievement of In Country lies in its intention to make that conflict accessible to young people, not primarily by describing warfare itself but by addressing themes of self-discovery that are particularly relevant to youth. Surprisingly, the novel’s protagonist is a young woman. Bobbie Ann Mason is skilled at representing the everyday world all people recognize; here, as in the short fiction of Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), she interweaves details of television shows, popular music, and advertising with Sam’s efforts to understand herself and her relationship to the man who died fighting in a war that seems more remote than the Korean War she has watched so often on M*A*S*H.
This interweaving of the themes of the Vietnam War and of coming-of-age allows the reader entrance into a painful period in history, a period that Mason does nothing to prettify and a period that, like Sam’s father, holds a key to the United States’ understanding of itself as a nation.