In Country (1985)

by Bobbie Ann Mason

Seventeen-year-old Sam Hughes of Hopewell, Kentucky, never knew her father; he died in Vietnam before she was born. She wants to learn more about him and that war, but isn't finding willing talkers. Her uncle Emmett, a Vietnam veteran with whom she lives, and his friends aren't  forthcoming. But it's clear to Sam that they were affected by their experience in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Emmett doesn't hold a job, and he's presenting symptoms that Sam fears may be caused by Agent Orange. Another veteran to whom Sam is attracted is impotent.
Along with being a touching antiwar novel, In Country is a coming-of-age story. Sam, smart, curious, and persistent, is an appealing protagonist as she tries to figure out both where she came from and where she's going. Should she attend college in Lexington, where her mother lives, or remain in Hopewell? What would happen to Emmett if she leaves? Should she stay with her boyfriend, who is starting to seem juvenile to her?

In ways In Country seems dated: a look at the aftereffects of a 1960s' war on those who fought it and their relatives, with gobs of references to 1980s' pop culture. But in ways things don't change. The United States is engaged in another war that seems equally senseless to many. Although Iraq veterans return to more public sympathy than the previous generation received, they may be even more traumatized, judging by their rates of PTSS and suicide. Like all good antiwar novels, In Country is statement about war, not just a war.


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