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Nonfiction in Brief

VETERAN'S DAY A Vietnam Memoir by Rod Kane (Orion Books/Crown Publishers: $18.95; 307 pp.)

January 28, 1990|SONJA BOLLE

Rod Kane went to Vietnam at age 18 and served as a combat medic. In "Veteran's Day," he gives an "Apocalypse Now"-style account--as if through a distortion lens, kaleidoscopic, up close and claustrophobic, loud and filled with hallucinatory color--of just how senseless life on the battlefield was, and how life after the war never can be the same.

Kane's scenes of life stateside are as confused as the scenes of war. A group of veterans lies around getting stoned, alternately deriding a buddy who joined the National Guard ("He couldn't make it out here in the real world," they guffaw) and trying to figure out when Memorial Day is ("It varies, I think, from year to year. It's not like it used to be. The government floated the date so everyone could have three-day weekends every year, or some . . . ." "That's real white of them."). Arriving late to a group therapy session at the Veterans' Administration, Kane apologizes: "Sorry I'm so late, you guys. I had to go through more interviews on this Agent Orange study."

Excruciatingly and often hilariously, Kane relates his struggle to find some order, meaning or even some semblance of normalcy in life after the war. He tries drugs, alcohol, women, all the common methods for drowning memories, but none can break through his sense of isolation.

The solitary-man-at-the-end-of-the-bar stories are a familiar element of Vietnam memoirs; an unusually reported part of Kane's groping, however, is his effort to write about the war. As he works on this book, he realizes that his writing has been filled with dramatics and romanticism. When he reveals to a group-therapy leader that his buddy Two-Tone, who appears in these pages, actually was killed in Vietnam, the doctor's response is: "Oh? That's not the impression you give in your writing." Exactly!! Kane wants to scream in this book. I've been doing it all wrong!! It won't come out right!! It's stuck inside me!! "Veteran's Day" conveys that howl of pain and frustration with a clarity that burns.

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