Michael Stafford did a lot of research about war before writing his novel, Between the Walls of Time (Grey Swan Press, 485 pp., $36.95). When his main character Cyrus Kohler thinks about war, he “knew that war damaged souls, left them with unhealed wounds. The pain came unexpectedly, and on many levels, and often brought along its companion, hopelessness.”
This rang true to me. Certainly I experience it that way, thanks to having to deal with multiple myeloma, which is related to my exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.
The first section of this book focuses on the main character’s time in that war. Lt. Kohler, an Army Ranger, participates in the Americans’ last big land battle of the Vietnam War, the 1970 fight at Firebase Ripcord, serving with the 101st Airborne, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry, the Currahees. In that fight, four battalions of American troops confronted an entire division of North Vietnamese Army troops.
In the novel, due to incompetent leadership, Lt. Kohler and his men are abandoned, but Cyrus survives. In the thirty years after he returns home, Kohler gets his PhD and becomes a university professor, something few returning Vietnam War veterans have done.
We are told that during this thirty years,Cyrus witnessed “the decline of America” and he “is compelled to form a third political party, which he names “the Front.’” That is what the rest of the book is about. Stafford manages to get a reference to Jane Fonda into the narrative, although he devotes far more space to her one-time husband and fellow antiwar activist Tom Hayden.
The prose is sometimes demanding. For example: “The sky grimaced, the palette of its wet, gray, monsoon overwhelmed by so many ascending souls.”
As I read that passage near the book’s beginning, I asked myself, “Can I stand reading almost 450 more pages with sentences like that? It’s going to be a long hard slog for me.” Thankfully, the book lightened up after that—at least the prose did.
My favorite parts involve the action pieces. There’s a character, a bald eagle named Myoconda, who kills one of the primary bad guys by descending from the sky and dispatching him with his talons and his beak. Good riddance to him.
The bad guy in question had just murdered one of my favorite characters in the book, an ancient Shawnee woman named Tante Colleen, a reputed voodoo sorceress. Her great grandmother had walked The Trail of Tears.
The book was enjoyable and I recommend it to those who like reading about folks who are trying to save America by forming new political parties.
The author’s website is johnmichaelstafford.com