Ronald S. Zimney, the author of the novel A Lost Generation (324 pp., iUniverse, $29.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper), tells us that he graduated from high school in Minnesota, repaired rocket sleds in New Mexico, and served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He says nothing about setting foot in Vietnam. His novel is labeled historical fiction; it covers the period in America from the fall of 1981 to the fall of 2010.
The main character is Roger Hartec, a Vietnam veteran who commits the violent act of throwing a park bench through a plate glass window of a museum because it features a display of an American flag in a toilet. This display upsets a Cub Scout to the point of tears and Hartec retaliates with the park bench.
The other main character of this novel is Lilly Larsen, who has been a widow for ten years and who is more than ten years older than Hartec. The story spins out from there.
All of the above happens in the first few pages or even earlier. Readers are asked to believe that Roger Hartec was inVietnamas an Air Force mechanic, but was picked by the CIA to be a sniper. We are also asked to believe that the CIA has changed Hartec’s name and is hiding him in Minnesota because he is on communist Vietnamese hit lists and that the Vietnamese keep sending assassins to kill Hartec.
Hartec supports himself as a humble woodcutter. He does well enough with that job to have a house with an elevator in it. He and Lilly Larsen marry and accumulate what they call “waifs,” children who are neglected by their parents and who are threatened by a malignant social services agency with placement in foster care where they will be turned into hardened criminals destined for death row.
I’ve tried to give a sense of this novel without giving away too much of the plot. I must warn potential readers that this book is not well edited nor well proofread, nor have cliché’s been culled from the pages. The clichés come thick and fast, you could say. I encountered more than I could—shall we say—shake a stick at in just a chapter or two.
There are further annoyances in the novel. In fact, there are too many to list, so I’ll just offer a few. First, we are asked to believe that antiwar protestors met planes returning from Southeast Asia carrying the wounded, and that these protestors tipped the wounded off their stretchers. From what I know of that process, I doubt that any protestors got that close to the planes unloading wounded.
Also, when an African-American character appears, the author says he is “as black as the ace of spades.” When Asians are speaking, they are said to be “jabbering.” In one two-page stretch, the author uses the word “oriental” ten times to refer to Asian, as in “oriental cuisine.”
The book also presents as totally reasonable the notion that the United States should have “dropped the big one” on Vietnam, and that not doing so is proof that theU.S.military had its hands tied behind its backs by politicians. Gen. Curtis LeMay is praised for his statement about “bombing them into the Stone Age,” and this is not brought up just once in the novel.
Roger Hartec says, early in the book: “We really shouldn’t get into a scrap if we’re not going to use our nuclear weapons…. No point in having them if we won’t use them to protect ourselves. Whoever thought we would allow fifty eight thousand men to die without dropping the big one?”
Elsewhere, the book tries to make the case that we actually did win the war, but that the media chose not to publish the facts that would make that situation clear to the public. We are also told that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was right about our government having been infiltrated by communists and that the “Verona Papers pretty much proved” that.
Zimney tells us that Vietnam veterans were denied a victory that we earned and that we never lost an important battle. I’ve heard all of this before, and read it before, but not all between the covers of one book.
I give Zimney credit for coming up with a new slur on antiwar protestors. I spent a lot of time in antiwar rallies in the late 1960s and never saw or heard anything mean done or said to a Vietnam veteran. But that is just me, I guess. Certainly I never said a mean thing to any veteran during that period.
I give Zimney credit for his criticism of Operation Ranch Hand. The use of defoliants in the war is close to my heart, so I enjoyed reading Zimney’s words: “The Chemist who developed the formula thought the defoliant was going to be sprayed on enemy troops.” Actually, I believe that the “Chemist” thought the stuff was going to be sprayed on foliage, not people. Or so the “Chemist” said in court.
Zimney has a story he wants to tell. But his lack of basic skills as a writer—especially with spelling and grammar—makes this book a trial to read. The print and the margins are comfortable for a reader. That’s the best thing I can say about this piece of historical fiction.