Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

Dog Soldiers is a novel about some misguided people who smuggle heroin from Viet Nam into the US during the Viet Nam war. Some bad guys try to take it away from them. The novel won the National Book Award in 1975 and was made into a very good movie called Who’ll Stop the Rain. A while back I watched the movie again and thought the book might be even better, or that it might better explain the characters’ motivations.  

Having read the novel, I think the movie is better, even with the movie’s altered Treasure of the Sierra Madre ending. It probably helped that Robert Stone was one of the screenwriters. Although the movie didn’t include some characters and incidents from the book, it included enough. In addition, the people who chose the actors did an extraordinarily good job finding performers who perfectly fit the roles: Nick Nolte as the modern day samurai; Michael Moriarty as the confused writer; Tuesday Weld as his troubled wife; and the three gentlemen who played the scary bad guys. 

I’m not sure why the book won the National Book Award. Perhaps because it captured the dark side of the 70s so well and portrayed some vivid and convincing characters. Here is a passage, not necessarily representative, but expressing a characteristic attitude:

“In the course of being fragmentation-bombed by the South Vietnamese Air Force, Converse experienced several insights….One insight was that the ordinary physical world through which one shuffled heedless and half-assed toward nonentity was capable of composing itself, at any time and without notice, into a massive instrument of agonizing death….Another was that in the single moment when the breathing world had hurled itself screeching and murderous at his throat, he had recognized the absolute correctness of its move. In those seconds, it seemed absurd that he had ever been allowed to go his foolish way, pursuing notions and small joys. He was ashamed of the casual arrogance with which he had presumed to scurry about creation. From the bottom of his heart, he concurred in the moral necessity of his annihilation.”  (6/9/12)

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