Telling a story through flashbacks is not an uncommon device. But in R.T. Budd’s hands, we see a story that unfolds through the memories of a man who is trapped between sanity and derangement caused by what he has seen in the Vietnam War.
In Knight’s Blessing (Strategic Book Publishing, 496 pp., $32.50), the lead character, Steven Blessing, is a newly arrived grunt whose naiveté will shrink as his disillusionment grows.
We will come to like Blessing, the Knight, and we’ll care about what happens to him. The journey from wide-eyed new guy to seasoned veteran is told in a series of short chapters, each of which is a vignette—some coarse, some funny, some tragic.
There’s Blessing, leaping out the door of his helicopter to land on his belly, low-crawling in firing position as his comrades laugh and applaud. How was Blessing to know it was a secure LZ?
There’s Blessing, torn between the savvy instinct to remain in a rear-echelon job and his relentless desire to prove himself on patrol, ridiculed by for volunteering for hazardous duty.
Over time, he will turn cynical.
“We had to cover some 50 kilometers before nightfall to complete the mission, and that’s what the war in Vietnam was all about—completing the mission. A little one here, and a little one there; no matter how small or insignificant they seemed, complete them all, one at a time, and then move on to another one. They all meant something to someone, didn’t they? All the little missions were like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, being put together by someone important, somewhere, who supposedly knew what the completed picture looked like. Or did they?”
Through it all, Blessing appears, somehow, to be blessed. Whenever disaster strikes, there’s a warning voice inside his head. He struggles to understand why. Are they premonitions? Is it just a horrific dream? Or is he merely psychotic?
As a member of his team puts it, “Some of these guys over here are going to have some really bad problems when they get back to the World that nobody’s ever going to understand.”
The book begins with its lead character speaking directly to the reader, telling us that some of what we’ll read is simply fiction, although, he says, it’s actually true.
The themes are not new. There’s politics and chaos, slaughter and survival, brawls and beer. And an overwhelming sense of devastation.
The pseudonymous Rudd, a retired Army Major who served with the First Cav in Vietnam, doesn’t dig too deeply into what it all means. Ultimately, we may come to believe that he has chosen simply to spread clues through the jungle, leaving us unsure of his intent. He tells us that he will invent some of the language in the book and that if we understood it all, we might chuckle over his choice of words.
Were the warnings a manifestation of Blessing’s guilt? Are they reformed memories? Are they the voice of his guardian angel?
Who knows? But Knight’s Blessing is an easy read and an entertaining one.
Michael Ludden is the author of the detective novels, Tate Drawdy and Alfredo’s Luck, and a newly released collection of newspaper remembrances, Tales From The Morgue.