The Trion Syndrome by Tom Glenn



Tom Glenn spent thirteen years shuttling between the U. S. and Vietnam as an undercover NSA employee working on covert signals intelligence assignments before being rescued under fire when the North Vietnamese took Saigon in May of 1975.  We reviewed his book, Friendly Casualties, a Vietnam War novel-in-stories, on these pages last year.

The Trion Syndrome (Apprentice House, 306 pp., $15.99, paper) is dedicated to “all combatants who suffered damage to their souls while serving this country.” Glenn describes the book as “at once a domestic novel of marital infidelity, angsty teen-agers, and job strife, and a disturbing psychological study of long-held and barely repressed trauma.”  A close reading of the novel justifies that claim.

The protagonist, Dave Bell, shares many similarities with the author. He’s a Thomas Mann scholar who has returned from Vietnam, and is tormented by nightly dreams. He’s functioning, but damaged. He was changed in Vietnam, and not in a good way.

This novel is written in an experimental style, which involves switching from first person to third person when the author deems it necessary. The book is a beautifully written and edited literary novel.  Readers will do better with it, though, if they have read and understood the novels of Thomas Mann and have taken a few years of German. I’ve done those things and I still found the novel a struggle.


Tom Glenn

Here’s a brief quote illustrating the challenges in this novel: “He recognized Harry’s writing style—his use of ‘in order to’ and the past progressive and his tendency to string present participle clauses at the end of sentences.”

This sort of stuff can be fun for a Thomas Mann expert, but for normal mortals, not so much. The book does connect with the Vietnam War, to an illusive incident in Long Dinh, but most Vietnam veterans readers will find this book a difficult puzzle.

I recommend it only to die-hard Mann fans.

The author’s website is

—David Willson