The poet, novelist, storyteller, and columnist Jim Northrup’s latest book is a short, fast-reading novel, Dirty Copper (Fulcrum Publishing, 203 pp., $15.95). In it, Northrup spins out the story of Luke Warmwater—the hero of his award-winning short story collection, Walking the Rez Road (1993)—who is back home on the Anishinaabe reservation in northern Minnesota after surviving a harrowing tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.
Jim Northrup enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1962, and served for four years. That included a thirteen-month tour of duty in Vietnam with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines in the 3rd Marine Division from 1965-66.
The Vietnam War is never far from Luke Warmwater’s thoughts in this engaging novel, which covers his first few years after getting home. Warmwater has post-war nightmares and daytime flashbacks after becoming the first Native American deputy sheriff in Carlton County, Minnesota. He then moves on to a job in the Waukegan, Illinois, Police Department.
Northrop tells Warmwater’s story in bursts of short, simple sentences. The style works well to illuminate the day-to-day details of this Vietnam veteran’s life, as well as his flashbacks and nightmares.
The themes are both broad (Vietnam veterans’ readjustment problems after coming home from the war; institutionalized racism and discrimination faced by Native Americans) and narrow (Luke Warmwater’s love life, family life, and work life).