John M(ichael) Del Vecchio Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The 13th Valley is a] massive, unsure-of-itself, but minutely authentic first-novel: Vietnam through the eyes, under the feet, and through the boots of the "boonierats"—infantry troops even more jungle-entrenched than "grunts"—of Alpha Company. Del Vecchio mounts the base of his square, heavy book onto the shoulders of three soldiers in particular. Chelini, known throughout as Cherry, is the rawest recruit; and when war's full impact comes to him, he receives it with a sort of immune insanity. Egan is the shrewd sergeant, the pessimist, the realist who is surprised by nothing (but who compensates with romantic dreams). And Lt. Rufus Brooks, the squad leader, is a black Ph.D. in Philosophy who suffers from impotence (hence a failing marriage)—as well as from appalling ethical doubts about the war. So, embedded like mica-chips around these and the other characters, are vivid moments: jungle gourmet cooking with admixed C-rations; finding an NVA tunnel system (another of which will precipitate Alpha company's ultimate fire-fight and near-destruction); the creepy everpresence of leeches and giant spiders; artillery rounds that sound exactly like freight trains passing overhead; ambush …; Cherry's flipped-out behavior toward the end. Unfortunately, however, Del Vecchio's lurching-about in search of a consistent narrative approach leads him into awful prose potholes…. Norman Mailer, or even James Jones, then, Del Vecchio is not. But he has his own distinctive view of the 1960s' systemology on race, war, and sex (voiced by an assortment of characters). And, if uneven, this ambitious fiction-debut is promisingly alive with the gritty, insufferable atmospheres of Vietnam at full snafu tilt.

A review of "The 13th Valley," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1982 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. 50, No. 10, May 15, 1982, p. 615.