John M(ichael) Del Vecchio William Plummer - Essay

William Plummer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In a prefatory note [to "The 13th Valley"], John M. Del Vecchio expresses a debt to a soldier he met in Vietnam in the spring of 1971. A combat correspondent attached to the 101st Airborne Division, Del Vecchio was soon to depart Vietnam for "the world." "You can do it, man," said the soldier. "You write about this place. You been here a long time. People gotta know what it was really like."

Nurtured for more than a decade, "The 13th Valley" is not just one more testament to what went down over there. It is a big, lumbering, rhetorically uncombed war novel in the tradition of "The Naked and the Dead"—the sort of book critics have said could not be written out of the shifting rice paddies and jungles of Southeast Asia. It is replete with all the classic war-novel elements: with suffering and horror and camaraderie, edged with black humor and the impression that, for all the hardship, the survivors will never be so fully alive again. The book's focal character is a cliché straight from central casting. James Vincent Chelini, the Italian in the set—naturally, his comrades include an Irishman, a Jew, a chicano and an assortment of blacks—is a naif from Bridgeport, Conn. Chelini was supposed to be a telephone-systems installer tucked safely behind the lines. Instead, he lands in the infantry and is dropped among the "boonie rats," humping rucksacks across terrain owned by the North Vietnamese Army. In the course of things, "Cherry"...

(The entire section is 525 words.)