Elizabeth Swados John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Dispatches is a] sordid, even sinister, business. I am willing to believe that Herr's book is all they claim for it; all the more reason to bemoan the self-indulgent, sophomoric, and tuneless mess Miss Swados has made of it. Indeed, the entire Vietnam experience is trivialized, vulgarized, and, worst of all, made boring. It is one thing to take runaway children and portray their dropping out through clever verbal-musical vignettes; such kids do develop a gutter cleverness, are drawn to and drugged by rock music, and can be choreographed into dances of protest, wistful self-expression, kinetic energy as a substitute for purposeful activity.

But the Vietnam war, the soldiers, dismemberment and dying, national shame and personal tragedy submerged in heat, mud, humiliation, and sometimes modes of perishing that are denied even the dignity of combat (such as being shot by one's own buddies)—these cannot be judged by words cut out of context and turned into lyrics by a dubious art of découpage, and accompanied with music that, this time round, is all monotonous non-melody. Almost every "tune" here could be done full justice to by a penny whistle, baby's rattle, and tin drum…. (p. 85)

John Simon, in New York Magazine (copyright © 1979 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), May 7, 1979.