Changes: The Coming of Age in the South During the Vietnam War
By Dr. Bob Vadas (reviewer)
Changes: The Coming of Age in the South during the Vietnam War
by JD Morgan
(CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016)
The back cover of this book entices the reader by asking, "How much of this tale is fact, and how much is fiction? That's for you to figure out!" and I suppose the fun was supposed to begin there. Perhaps it is a reference to Tim O'Brien's view that "all war stories are false...but all war stories are also true." This story tests the parameters of believability with the unending adventures of a 17-year-old enlistee in the realms of hookers, drugs, guns and with, almost as a distant and vague side-show, the War in Vietnam as a back drop. One of many struggles I had with this story is that there is no war story. Vietnam seems to be almost a mythical distraction to the hedonistic desires of this young lad who seeks only to feed his narcissism while generally ignoring the contemporary anti-war movement, racial conflicts, or even the developing GI resistance movement. It was as if the 60's and 70's existed solely to provide him with new and better drugs.
Enlisting in the US Army the day after the failed Son Tay raid, our new and unlikable anti-hero, farm-raised in Kansas, trained at Fort Leonard Wood and then did stints at "Tigerland," and Fort Bragg, while anxious to engage in combat in Vietnam, a goal he never realizes. Though just 17, he dallies with untold numbers of hookers, friends and girlfriends of his buddies, drinks and parties and engages with the realities of the home-front during the war like a crazed youth trying to hit all the curve balls sent his way. Most, if not all, he seems to always hit out of the park. If he ever gained mature wisdom during his coming of age, you surely could not tell at any point in this hard to read narrative.
For those seeking a nice read to soothe the need for either romantic or meta-physical notions, or perhaps revisit your passionate and political youthful indiscretions, you will be greatly disappointed. With continual graphic porn-like descriptions of too many absolutely loveless and almost robotic sexual adventures, it is difficult to understand who the author is trying to appeal to. Perhaps, like the main character, the story might interest those 17- to 22-year-olds who simply exist to pleasure themselves, pun intended, as this book was difficult for me to find its end.
The book resembles a Kerouac-like road trip complete with the bums but without the dharma or accompanying cultural nuance. If you like only to get smashed and party, then read this book but the only cool thing I thought about our hero is his '63 Corvette.
So, is it a true story? I could not tell, however, most of the vernacular and music, from CCR to his beloved Alice Cooper, checked out, though if you are a Beatles, Dylan, Paul Simon, or Doors fan, forget it. The author did, at times, slip up with his history, referencing the DEA, as example, nearly a year before Nixon signed it into existence on July 28, 1973. He also perpetuated urban myths such as the long-told and unverifiable accounts of Donkey Shows south of the border. I ended the story, not soon enough, without knowing or even caring.
Dr. Bob Vadas, is a professor at The State University of NY in Potsdam and takes students annually to Vietnam.