Backseat by Tom Wascoe

Tom Wascoe served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, but no further information is given about his tour of duty on the jacket of his novel Backseat (Bookstand Publishing, 168 pp $24.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper) or anywhere else I could find. Wascoe received an MBA after his military service, then spent thirty-five years in Human Resource work.

We are told that this is Wascoe’s debut as a fiction writer. Backseat is set in 1969. After the hero Michael’s freshman year in college—which was no great measure of success—he embarks upon a 1,500-mile road trip as a weekend challenge, part of his fraternity’s Hell Week hazing.

He and another pledge are required to get to the town of California, Pennsylvania, to a brother fraternity and get a signature of the fraternity president. They are allowed only ten dollars each for expenses. Michael’s companion for this ordeal is a total jerk named Randy, who is a perfect pledge in every way that Michael is not. Randy is a cool guy, a jock.  Michael is a nerd.

Tom Wascoe

Backseat is the story of the trip, who the guys get rides with, and how it changes Michael’s life and goals. The book is beautifully produced, with a striking cover, and is well-edited. It mostly reads like a young adult novel, which is not a bad thing.

Backseat has a strong moral at the conclusion, but the road adventures are recounted well and held my interest to the end. As Michael says on the last page of this small book: “I have learned a lot of lessons in the last few days.”

On the next to the last page, Michael informs a beautiful girl who had scorned him that he has talked to an Army recruiter about enlisting.  Michael is aware of the Vietnam War. We know this because near the beginning of the book his road trip companion, Randy, tells Michael that he is a loser who is likely to “flunk out, get drafted and get sent to Vietnam. “

We know Michael is also aware of the National Guard option because the driver of one of his rides explains to him when Michael asks that he avoided the draft by joining the Guard. “My father had some political connection through his work and was able to assist me,” the guys says.

I know there were fathers of that sort. I just didn’t have one or ever met one. That was a factor of my humble origins. So this book provides a glimpse into how the “other half” lives. That’s the half that George W. Bush and his ilk lived in.

Wascoe has written a credible novel of how a young man deals with the challenges of college life in late 1960s America. I think Michael will learn lessons of an even more powerful sort in the next stage of his time in the 60s—in the Vietnam War. Good luck to him. I hope that Wascoe produces a book about that adventure.

The author’s website is

—David Willson