Starlight by Scott Ely
Genre: Literary War Fiction
Rating: **** Four Stars
Veteran Author: Yes, Army
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“Scott Ely served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. After the war, he received an MA from the University of Mississippi and an MFA from the University of Arkansas. He currently teaches writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. He has published five novels and four collections of short stories. He lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina, with his wife, the poet Susan Ludvigson, and several dogs”
“In the depths of Vietnam’s jungles, a radioman and a haunted sniper try to survive
Jackson has three hundred days left in Vietnam, and he plans to spend them behind a desk, working the radio for a major in a godforsaken firebase not far from the Laos border. But one day, the reality of war visits Jackson in the form of Tom Light, a sniper whose scope is said to have the power to raise the dead. Where Light goes, ambushes follow, and so he has been cursed to wander the jungle alone, his skin growing pale, his boots replaced with sandals.
Tom Light is a dangerous man to know, a spooky lost soldier who survives in spite of himself. Jackson wants to learn his secret. Hoping the master sniper can keep him safe, Jackson ventures out with Light. In the jungle they will encounter perils—some real and some hallucinatory. Can the strange sniper’s all-powerful starlight scope will them to stay alive?”
My Two Cents:
I always figured Vietnam fiction was played out. What new variety can you find? Well, this is an interesting twist on the sub-genre. There are no real stereotypes, like I expected. Even the handful of drug-addicted troops are surprisingly disciplined, at least while on duty.
The friendship between the two main characters, one a hardcore, lone wolf sniper and the other a shaming radioman, is not there to set the scene for a buddy war tale. They’re just two points of view on the sniper’s “magical” starlight scope plot line. The story is so cleverly crafted that this inanimate object is as much a main character in its own right as a plot device.
While the story dives off into hopes, dreams and, in the heat of battle, another plane of existence, the tale stays surprisingly stays anchored to reality. For example, despite a major subplot involving the steady breakdown of discipline, this is no Apocalypse Now remake. The steadfast grounding of the story to real military life keeps this Vietnam-era war story from becoming dated.