Saturday, April 15, 2017
His name was Philip James Cole until he was six years old. Then his mother announced, smiling at him as if she were giving him the most wonderful gift in the world, “I’m going to change your name to Elvis. That’s a much more special name than Philip and James, don’t you think? From now on, you’re Elvis.”
to Cole’s time in Vietnam (and yes, Vietnam is explicitly mentioned).
Starkey glanced up from the pictures.
“You don’t look old enough for Vietnam.”
The previous book, and this book, make it explicit that Cole and Pike went to Vietnam in the last years of the war, and both when in under 18.
“Who’s this guy, Ranger?”
“His name was Ted Fields, not Ranger. A Ranger is a kind of soldier. Some guys were so proud of being Rangers they got the tattoo. Ted was proud.”
“What do Rangers do?”
Elvis took the photo from Ben and put it back into the cigar box. Ben grew worried that Elvis would stop answering his questions, so he snatched up one of the blue cases and opened it.
Elvis took the case, closed it, then put it back into the cigar box.
“They call it a Silver Star. That’s why there’s a little silver star in the center of the gold star.”
“You have two.”
“The Army had a sale.”
I feel like that second passage is something that would be common to soldiers from Vietnam–the war was unpopular in the US and most soldiers came home to the attitude that what they had done was shameful (despite the fact most had been drafted against their will).
Which is what makes that part of this story so fascinating. Soldiers from WWII came home and didn’t talk about what they did, not because they were ashamed, but because they didn’t know how to talk about it. Soldiers from Vietnam came home and tried to hide. But for the past 20 years, soldiers coming home from the Gulf have been lionized–whether they feel they deserve it or not.
This is the first of the Elvis Cole books to make me cry, not in the descriptions of Ben’s kidnapping or the destruction of Cole’s relationship with Lucy because of Ben’s kidnapping, but because of the scenes where Elvis calls the families of the men in his group who died. Because it wasn’t just the soldiers who came back from Vietnam who suffered, but also the families of those soldiers who never came back that suffered in silence.
This story is dark–extremely dark–there is a child in danger, and we experience his danger. We relive Cole’s past. We suffer with Cole and Lucy as they slowly go mad with worry for Ben.
But there are still parts that made me giggle.
“Oh, yeah, it was a sixty-seven Ford four-door factory panel Econoline with the original trim. Crack in the left front windshield and spot rust on the lamps, no caps.”
I asked him to describe the two men, but he didn’t remember either.
I said, “You saw the van had rust spots around the headlights, but you can’t describe the men?”
“It’s a classic, yo? Me and my bro, Jésus, we’re Econoheads, yo? We’re rebuilding a sixty-six. We even got a website, yo? You should check it out.”
One of the interesting things about the kidnapping is that it didn’t come out of the blue–it was foreshadowed several books back, in what felt like a throw-away passage. The same happens here, when a brief conversation between Pike and a man who manages mercenaries.
This is a hard book to read, but it tells so much about Cole–and even Pike–that it is worth the hard parts.
Published by Doubleday