Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dog Soldiers was Robert Stone’s second novel. His first, Hall of Mirrors (1967), received the William Faulkner Award for Best First Novel, while his third, A Flag for Sunrise (1981), was nominated for the American Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

In the impressive and extensive fiction about the Vietnam War era, Dog Soldiers occupies a prominent place. Part of its significance derives from the fact that it does not portray combat. Rather, it concentrates on the conflict’s impact on civilian America. Here, too, however, it avoids the obvious for the most part by not portraying student revolutionaries, “peaceniks,” and the like.

Instead, the novel dwells on the shadowy and disturbing antitheses to all such well-documented features of the period. It presents characters who are trapped in a psychic fire fight. It dwells at great length and with unnerving dramatic effect on the relationship between action and consciousness. On a different plane, Dog Soldiers established its author as an important voice, one capable of addressing American experience as a totality at a specific historical moment, one capable of mustering a degree of ambition and commitment uncharacteristic of many of his artistic contemporaries. Dog Soldiers won for Stone the National Book Award for Fiction in 1975. It was also filmed as Who’ll Stop the Rain? in 1978.

Despite its range and its status among works dealing with similar material, Dog Soldiers is hampered by a rather didactic plot and a scheme, rather than a cast, of characters. Moreover, its conclusion is reached more by attrition than by insight. Nevertheless, Dog Soldiers bears crucial witness to one of the decisively influential American experiences of the century.