Tom Dawson served as a combat correspondent in Vietnam. After coming home from the war he became an educator. The two main characters of Cottonwood (CreateSpace, 375 pp., $14.95, paper), his literate and well-produced novel, are named Tom Dawson and Sam Wilson. They served together in Vietnam.
The author gives one of his main characters his own name and much of his past history, including his experience in Vietnam as a combat correspondent. We are told that his old friend Sam was, “a Nighthawk who flew in Huey gunships.”
The conflict the novel presents us with takes place in Cottonwood Springs, Colorado, where Sam owns a run-down trailer park that functions as a place for lower income folks to abide in peace. Developers have their eyes on Sam’s property, and have made him an offer that he refuses. This, in turn, stirs up trouble with the developers, who have a vision of turning sleepy little Cottonwood into another Aspen—a haven for millionaires who will build their mansions there to be close to the ski slopes. Further complicating the plot is Tom’s secret affair with Sam’s daughter, Sandy.
There are many references to the Vietnam War including the back story that Tom and Sam met in Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, but chose to leave OCS uncompleted when the government “began offering early outs for soldiers volunteering to be sent to Nam.” This caused me to scratch my head in puzzlement.
In short order, the two of them were “riflemen assigned to the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Division, working out of Cu Chi just northeast of Saigon.”
After about half of their tours of duty had elapsed, Sam got the Nighthawk assignment, and Tom got the job of typing “stories on a Remington typewriter about body counts.” During his Nighthawk assignment, Sam shot a water buffalo, which brought him bad Karma.
The novel and the characters wander far from Cottonwood Springs. At one point Tom is in New York City contemplating the missing World Trade Center towers, the “architectural martyr,” and feeling a cold chill when he hands over his fare to a taxi driver of “Middle Eastern origin.” Sam Wilson takes off for Mexico with two companions, one of them named Jesus, and ends up being involved in gold mining and revolution.
About half way through, Cottonwood turns into a mystery of sorts. I won’t spoil it by giving away the details.
I enjoyed the book and the many references to movies, songs, and books. All the main characters seemed to be movie experts. To list all of the movies mentioned and talked about in this book would double the size of this review.
Dawson has produced a novel, in which all the characters are searching for the meaning of life, and he did it without losing this reader. That is a great accomplishment.