Tom Puetz’s Secret Choices (Dragon Tale Books, 232 pp., $14.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) is a book of fiction. But Puetz draws heavily on his own personal history for the meat of his narrative. He grew up on a farm in Indiana, served as an infantry sergeant in the Vietnam War, and was honorably discharged in December 1969.
He shares with the main character, Tom Warden, an employment record of twenty years of random jobs of all kinds, until he found stability. The book alternates chapters between his time in South Vietnam and 1984 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, at his high school reunion. The book ends in 1970 in Freeland, Indiana, when Tom has been back from Vietnam for two months and attending Indiana University in Bloomington.
He’d made this plan because that was what he was going to before he got drafted. But Tom can’t stick to a plan made when he was a very different man. Then comes twenty years of trying to find himself. The black dog of rage follows him everywhere. He keeps a sidearm with him at all times and an ice cooler of beer in the back of his pickup truck.
This is one of the rare Vietnam War infantry novels in which the return-home section is well developed. Tom Warden gets involved in an interesting and believable subplot involving numbers running and murder. He handles himself well and does not become a patsy. I won’t become a spoiler and say any more.
Secret Choices is a worthy, well-written novel. Both male and female characters are fleshed out and engrossing to read about. This reader cared about the people on these pages. The cover—which is misleading to say the least—is striking nevertheless.
Secret Choices explores serious issues such as the treatment Vietnam veterans received when they returned home and realized that their country was lost to them. I remember the aloneness I felt when I returned to Seattle from Binh Hoa—something Puetz effectively evokes in the last chapters of the book. This makes Secret Choices much more than just a thriller, which it also is.
Thanks to Tom Puetz for a very good first novel.
His website is secretchoices.homestead.com