The Pequod Review:
Dog Soldiers marked a huge leap forward for Robert Stone. While it is just as political as A Hall of Mirrors, Stone’s narrative is more cohesive, and his story is more focused and purposeful. The book centers on John Converse, an American journalist working in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Disillusioned, morally corrupted, and fearful, Converse embarks on a scheme to have a friend (Ray Hicks) smuggle three kilos of heroin back home to his wife (Marge) in Berkeley. When the drug deal goes bad, Hicks goes on the run, taking Marge with him.
Stone’s writing is vivid and raw, and Dog Soldiers has a number of stunning scenes: Here for example he describes Converse in South Vietnam:
Converse lay clinging to earth and life, his mouth full of sweet grass. Around him the screams, the bombs, the whistling splinters swelled their sickening volume until they blotted out sanity and light. It was then that he cried, although he had not realized it at the time.
In the course of being fragmentation-bombed by the South Vietnamese Air Force, Converse experienced several insights; he did not welcome them although they came as no surprise.
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. Existence was a trap; the testy patience of things as they are might be exhausted at any moment.
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.
He had lain there — a funny little fucker — a little stingless quiver on the earth. That was all there was of him, all there ever had been.
And Stone’s descriptions of drug abuse (no doubt based on first-hand experiences) are just as good as they were in A Hall of Mirrors:
She stayed in the chair surrounded by immensities of silent time. At the core of it, within her, a righteous satisfaction was rising. She sensed the outer world as an infinite series of windowed rooms and she felt a clear confidence that it contained nothing which she could not overcome to her satisfaction.
And when she closed her eyes it was wonderful. She passed into a part of the sea where there was infinite space, where she could breathe and swim without effort through limitless vaults. She fancied that she could hear voices, and that the voices might belong to creatures like herself.
The dirty and amoral atmosphere of 1970s America has never been captured so well. Winner of the 1975 National Book Award.