Forces-at-Play by Daniel Refvik

I surmise from internal evidence in his book, Forces-at-Play (Outskirts, 550 pp., $25.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) that Dan Refvik served in Vietnam in the Marine Corps, but nowhere in the book does he ‘fess up to that. The author’s note says that Refvik is a Chicago native and is currently writing a science fiction novel, Pete O’Day and the Android Sister.

Atticus, the main character of this fine novel, is drafted into the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. This is one of the best novels I have read about a man who is drafted into the Marine Corps and makes the best of a bad situation. His gets the nickname, “Mr. Attitude,” in the Marines and that follows him for his entire two years.

Atticus expects to end up in the infantry, but is chosen to be a communications man. When he arrives in Vietnam, his job consists of being a message courier. He gets kicked around a lot, and becomes a wireman for a while, and then a radio man. He works in the rear in Phu Bai for much of his tour, but he also gets to be a part of nine-day jungle sweeps. So he is neither a pogue nor a grunt, but some of each.

He gets asked, “How’d you get a prime job like that? “  The answer: “Beats me.  It’s the job they gave me when I finished boot camp.”

I appreciate that the author lets us know that the myth that all draftees end up as infantrymen is just that—a myth.

                                                     Daniel Refvik

There is much rumination about Fate, Kismet, and Life and Love in this novel. We also get the usual Vietnam War-novel references to John Wayne, Baby Killers, fragging, jammed M-16s, trigger time, and how the VFW did not welcome Vietnam veterans to their ranks after we returned home.

Refvik gives us the best reference to ham and mother-fuckers I have ever read, and I’ve read hundreds. To wit: “The contents inside the can were held together by filaments of fatty strands suspended in a greasy liquid along with plump, green things.”

He also provides a recipe for making ham and mothers more tasty.  Useful.

There was the occasional word that sent me running to my dictionary, one of them being, “caliginous,” but I could use the exercise.

I loved this novel. For those looking for a very different Marine Corps novel of the Vietnam War, try this one out.

—David Willson

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