Dog Tags & Wedding Bands
Joe Rosato’s Dog Tags & Wedding Bands opens with a prologue detailing the brave civilian women who worked, mostly as nurses, in Vietnam. It seems his goal is to tell their story, to give them a voice in a historical conflict that rarely discusses them. This goal is intriguing but seems at odds with the start of the novel in that chapter one focuses solely on Chet Ross, a Navy veteran mourning the loss of his wife, who makes a return trip to Vietnam in 2006, over 30 years since his time there during the war.
While the events of the novel are compelling, the style in which they are told is a bit flat. Everything that happens to Chet on his return trip is narrated in third-person, told to the reader rather than shown. We do not read the dialogue between Chet and Ta, a Vietnamese man he meets in his hotel bar; rather we are told what they talk about. Chapter three moves away from Chet’s story and into Ta’s, but because the narration is observational rather than involved, it is hard to feel moved by the violence Ta witnesses as a young man.
From Chet and Ta the narrative shifts to college roommates turned American Red Cross nurses Mia and Jilly. It is these young women who drive the heart of the novel. Their arrival in Vietnam, and subsequent capture, pulls Chet and Ta together. The two men, upon meeting, have no idea they share a tragic history on one fateful night during Typhoon Cobra in 1966.
While the idea is strong–the disappearance of two young women during Vietnam whose story is taken up by a veteran with a tangential connection to them–the style lacks urgency. There are exhaustive details about place and historical setting that could have been traded for more immediate conversations or actions, and Chet’s emotional journey could benefit from being shown rather than told. For example, a visit to the Water Tower Hotel in Chicago includes the hotel’s backstory during the fire of 1871, details that have no bearing on the narrative.
That being said, the mystery at the heart of the novel, and what Rosato seems to want to do in memorializing the women who served and were largely forgotten, is admirable and worth reading.
|Page Count||176 pages|
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