Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 1975 and filmed as Who’ll Stop the Rain in 1978, Dog Soldiers depicts the ongoing effects of the Vietnam War back home in the United States, where heroin has become an obsession and it is hard to tell friend from enemy. Its title derives from a passage in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, rephrased by Ernest Hemingway, about grimly soldiering on, leading a dog’s life but staying alive. A piece in the Guardian (“There It Is”) had set the stage for this book, detailing the crazed violence of the war (helicopter pilots gunning down elephants, the Saigon tax office bombed). Vignettes from that piece are worked into the first forty-one pages of Dog Soldiers.
Despite its initial scenes in Vietnam, however, Dog Soldiers concentrates not on combat but on the impact of the war on the moral certainties, loyalties, and conscience of the civilian United States, where, as Stone later said, “all sorts of little bills were coming up due for payment.” The novel argues that the Vietnam War most affected values back home, infecting the survivors with greed and corruption summed up in the heroin underworld. Stone calls the 1970’s “a creepy, evil time” and Dog Soldiers his reaction to it.
John Converse, a talented but tainted journalist on assignment to Vietnam, schemes with an acquaintance, Charmian, to smuggle three kilograms of pure heroin home from Vietnam for a $40,000 profit. To do so he enlists the aid of ex-Marine Ray Hicks, a friend but also “probably a psychopath” and therefore usable. What Converse does not realize is that he has been set up from...
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