Amazon tells us that Thomas Calabrese’s Some of the Best (Amazon Digital Services, 220 pp., $2.99, Kindle) is an “action adventure story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.” That is true as far as it goes— which isn’t quite far enough. The garish cover, showing a set of otherworldly staring eyes under the edge of a helmet, visually communicates elements of fantasy and science fiction.
Calabrese, a VVA member, dedicates the book to the men of Lima Company, Third Battalion, 26th Marines. He goes on to say that the book was “inspired by true events.” It’s safe to assume that Calabrese was a member of that unit. His use of detail, rank, and other Marine Corps details is the result of more than just arduous research. The book seems to be written by someone who has been there and back.
The cast of Marine Corps characters includes Ward, Berkeley, Thornton, Mac, and the narrator, Gaetano. A machine gunner, Gaetano is a man who envisioned himself as a Fighting Leatherneck based partly on the images of John Wayne he saw in the movie Sands of Iwo Jima, John Garfield in Pride of the Marines, and Van Heflin in Battle Cry. Gaetano idolizes another Marine he meets in Vietnam, a man he identifies as “a strange one.” The strange one becomes the “quiet Marine.”
The narrator says of the quiet Marine: He “seems to know exactly where he is going, unlike the rest of us.”
In this book the reader must pay close attention or he’ll miss something important to know, something about the essence of the Eternal Soldier. I don’t want to spoil anything, so that’s all I’ll say about that. That quiet Marine, by the way, becomes a sergeant who leads his men, including Gaetano, through an amazing series of combat situations.
There is enough killing here to fill up a dozen other books of this sort. There also are plenty of grisly scenes of Marines violating the Geneva Convention by—among other things—whacking the heads off dead enemy soldiers.
We get some of the usual Vietnam War stuff in this novel, including mentions of ham and lima beans, immersion foot, and R&R’s. But a lot here is new and different. Calabrese uses the techniques of magical realism, fantasy, and dreamscape to take us into new realms, including poppy fields where Taliban forces are lurking.
Some of the Best reminds me of a couple of Joe Haldeman science fiction classics, including War Year, right down to the cover. That is high praise.