'Matterhorn' is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of an American Marine company serving in the Vietnamese central highlands near the Laotian border. I'll say right now that I was really impressed with this book. While on many levels it seems to be just another hung-ho adventure novel I found that it quickly breaks the mold by poignantly describing the mind-numbing tedium, petty internal politics and the extreme sense of isolation which all seems part of being a combat infantryman. Set in 1969, the soldiers of Bravo Company live in the shadow of Tet, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the growing militancy of the Black Power movement, and the bitter realization that 'their war' has become nothing more than a corporate exercise in attrition, cronyism and a growing mountain of half-baked statistics.
The story centers around Waino Mellas, a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant fresh out of Yale, a young man eager to make a reputation for himself, seeing his 13-month tour as a stepping stone to a future career in politics. The book takes the reader through Mellas' journey from a green, self-centered careerist to a veteran 'bush' officer who genuinely cares for (and ultimately loves) the marines under his command. The story is set in the central highlands of Vietnam during monsoon season where Bravo Company works to establish a firebase on a mountain peak codenamed 'Matterhorn'. The company is beset with tension as it's black marines are roiling against what they see as racist oppression by the unit's white NCOs and the battalion's commanding officer, an aging lieutenant colonel who is trying to push forward his career at all costs, risking their lives in a series of ill-conceived missions. Matterhorn becomes both the symbolic and physical nemesis for the marines of Bravo Company as they each try to surmount and survive their tour.
It took Karl Marlantes 35 years to see his book to publication. Marlantes himself is a Vietnam veteran, a highly decorated Marine officer who saw extensive action commanding a bush platoon (the actions described in the book closely resemble those in which he participated). Posted to the Pentagon after his tour he was dismayed by the hostility many of his fellow Americans had to his service. In struggling to come to grips with the pain and futility of it all he began to write down his thoughts. 'Matterhorn' is the culmination of that effort.
The audiobook is read by Bronson Pinchot who does a masterful job in conveying the wide variety of characters in the story. Ranging from a black M60 gunner from Cleveland, a Yale educated Lieutenant from Oregon, an executive officer from Boston and a gunnery sergeant from South Carolina, Pinchot's voice, like a chameleon, subtly changes giving each of these men their own distinct place in the narrative.
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
Atlantic Monthly Press