Dog Soldiers

ISBN: 0330370960
ISBN 13:
By: Robert Stone

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Crime Currently Reading Fiction Historical Fiction National Book Award Time 100 Time Top 100 To Read Vietnam War

Reader's Thoughts

Michael

I started reading this because I heard that this was a cross between Raymond Chandler and Hunter S Thompson. While I haven’t read anything of Thompson (I will soon) I am a huge fan of Chandler; this is more neo-noir than hard-boiled but that’s ok. Dog Soldiers follows the story of a war journalist, a marine and the journalist’s wife as the plan a smuggling deal. Converse (journalist) plans to ship heroin from Vietnam on a marine vessel with the help of Hicks (marine). When Hicks gets to America he meets up with Converse’s wife Marge but they are been followed. Hicks and Marge go on the run trying to save the heroin, unsure whether he has been double crossed by Converse or the Supplier. While Marge is dealing with a growing painkiller addiction she is also coming to the realization that, her life wasn’t a life she thought it was but she was just a junkie. Hicks is still dealing with issues of Vietnam and becoming paranoid and a growing attraction to Nietzsche. As for the heroin, it is become more and more apparent that things have changed in America; no one cares about heroin anymore, it’s all about LCD in the 1960’s. While this book deals with the many different aspects; from the war and its effect on America to drug and even the corruptibility and mistrust of authority. Dog Soldiers can be a little difficult to read but in the end it is well worth the effort.

Roger

If all books were this fun to read, I don't think I'd get much done in life. For the first one hundred pages or so, Dog Soldiers fell into the "pretty fun to read, though not too much else going on for it" category. The plot seemed a bit overplayed, and the dialogue sounded as if it were taken out of something aged and hard-boiled, or intended for young adults. But the further I got into the book, the more I liked it. The characters emerged as fairly three-dimensional, well illustrated people. The last fifty pages or so consist of a freaked out, drug influenced shoot out that serves as a perfect climax. The most important accomplishment of Stone's work is his depiction of the American mindset during the violence-saturated Vietnam era. The plot opens in Vietnam and quickly moves to the States, but the characters bring the turbulence of the war right along with them. By the novels's ending, I understood why it received the National Book Award.

Carmen Petaccio

"In a manner of speaking, he had discovered himself. Himself was a soft shell-less quivering thing encased in a hundred and sixty pounds of pink sweating meat. It was real enough. It tried to burrow into the earth. It wept.""It was a seduction. The shit would seal some chaste clammy intimacy; there would be long loving talks while their noses ran and their light bulbs popped out silently in the skull's darkness.""Men rolled in the road calling on Buddha or wandered about weeping, holding themselves together as though embarrassed at their own destructibility.""His fatigue hung the desert grass with hallucinatory blossoms, filled the ravines with luminous coral and phantoms.""'It tolls for thee, motherfucker,' someone cried, and there was echoing, half-hysterical laughter.""There were things that lived in wounds.""You know what's out there? Every goddamn race of shit jerking each other off. Mom and Dad and Buddy and Sis, two hundred million rat-hearted cocksuckers in enormous cars. Rabbits and fish. They're mean and stupid and greedy, and they'll fuck you for laughs, they want you dead."

Philip Fracassi

I like wartime books and the stories of survivors - people who cut lives out of the wasteland that a foreign occupation can create. The best example of this, in my opinion, is King Rat by James Clavell. But unfortunately it can also be very tired. This book is an example of a wartime-themed drug-deal gone bad twister that just comes off as weak, annoying and poorly executed. You hate all the characters, you feel sickened by the violence and morality beat-down rather then entranced, and by the last 1/3 of the story you just want someone to rip the book from your hands and shred it so you don't feel bad about not going to the end, because as much as I hate not to finish a book, this one was a real chore and the thought did cross my mind a few times.I think Buffalo Soldiers might be a nice alternative if you're looking for something similarly themed.

Lukasz Pruski

On the cover of Robert Stone's "Dog Soldiers" a blurb from Washington Post Book World screams "The Most Important Novel of the Year". Had this been indeed true, then 1973 would have been a terrible year for books. "Dog Soldiers" is just a complex and competent thriller, with some nuggets of social observation thrown in to make it appear wise and deep. 1973, Saigon. Vietnam war is winding down. The main characters are John Converse, a low-level journalist and an aspiring writer, his wife, Marge, and an American soldier, Ray Hicks, who is a sort of Converse's friend. Converse has Hicks smuggle a large package of heroin from Vietnam into California. The bulk of the plot describes attempts of numerous bad characters to get that package in various California locations. The action-filled plot is interesting, yet, especially towards the end, totally implausible.I have serious reservations as to Mr. Stone's writing. The dialogues in the first part of the novel are jarringly unnatural. One can eventually get accustomed to less than stellar dialogues and towards the end they read almost fine. Only Marge and Ray feel like real people, Converse is close but does not quite make it, and the bad guys and some women characters are just caricatures. There are some nicely drawn minor players, though. It has taken me such a long time to get through the book as I had to force myself to continue reading.Most characters, while being drunk to the gills, are constantly high on heroin, dilaudid, and other drugs, including hallucinogenic mushrooms. They talk in a rather highbrow language ("Let smiles cease, let laughter flee") and conduct bombastic philosophical discussions on the deeper issues of the nature of being, even while being tortured or while dying. All this is rather silly. Maybe it was considered innovative in 1973, but I read deeper books that involved addiction, which had been written much earlier (as an example, Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano", published in 1947).The greatest sin of the novel is its pretentiousness. Mr. Stone uses Big Words to write about Big Issues. More talented writers can write about big issues using small words.What saves "Dog Soldiers" from a two-star rating is an adept portrayal of the insanity and horrors of war and of the societal breakdown caused by the war. The slow death of the hippie era is shown well. Also, while the bulk of the plot in the last third of the book is preposterous, the very last four of five pages provide a wonderfully nasty closing to the plot.Two and three quarter stars.

Elizabeth Moeller

My boss saw this book sitting on the table in the lunch room and said "oh, that's about Vietnam, right?". I said sort of and the topic dropped. The long answer to my boss's question is that this book isn't really about the war in Vietnam, in the sense that it's not about what the soldiers experienced, but it is about Vietnam in the sense that at the beginning of the story one of the main characters is working as a reporter in Vietnam during the war and, while there, has the not so great idea to smuggle a giant bag of heroin back to the states, with the hope of making some money. The story that follows is less about Vietnam, and more about what was happening to people back at home during the war. Unlike other books that I have read which are about this era, but written at a remove from the time, this book really gave a sense that people thought that the abrupt changes happening in America were signs that the end of the world was coming. So many people had experienced terrible things while serving in Vietnam and then came home and were unable to unsee them. Furthermore, people at home were using drugs with a frequency and in volumes that seemed to be an effort to blot out the world. I enjoyed a lot of the scenes in this book for the detailed descriptions they gave of Vietnam era America. Ultimately, though, once the plot turned into a chase between two warring factions to get the bag of heroin it sort of lost my interest.

Joey Gold

"Yes," Dieter said, "I can see that. But in real life, you can't pull it off.""Well then, fuck real life. Real life don't cut no ice with me."("Dog Soldiers", Robert Stone, p. 292).The most unique thing about this book is how its language runs in collision with its pace. It has the rhythm of a bloody-action heist thriller on ascending adrenalin, but the language which describes this action is filled with strange, darkly-comic wordplay and semi-psychedelic quirky imagery. Towards the last section of the novel (and no, this isn't a spoiler) a raging battle in a remote town on the Mexico border is followed by a chapter devoted completely to a surreal, rambling inner-monologue. This is a perfect example of the two-faced nature of this brilliant book.John Converse, a writer who has grown tired from working in a bizarre pirate newspaper, starts a career of freelance journalism in Vietnam. He roams around the lush yet deadly landscape, sometimes visits jungle battle-lines, and even makes it to frayed Cambodia. Torpid and sluggish to the bone, before he is shipped back to California he launches with his wife Margie and friend Ray Hicks a reckless smack deal. I won't elaborate on the plotline any further, but the colors darken, as you would imagine, into a dire canvas of chaotic violence. Amongst these three unforgettable main characters flows a sea of demented and corrupt caricatures. Psychotic FBI narcs, Samoan thugs, false Messiahs; loonies with names like K-Jell, Holy O and Smitty. So if your cup of tea is something like a chamber play, where the author focuses on three or four main and round figures, you might dismiss this book. If you are generally fond of two distinct genres – gloomy satire and strong suspense – than "Dog Soldiers" and most books by Robert Stone should leave you more than satisfied.Raskin, one of the corrupt feds' hooligans, is the roundest supporting player in the book. He is colder, more vigilant than the other stoned misfits. At one point he delivers a monologue explaining the roots of his rotten ways; an involuntary commitment to a Brooklyn psych ward, a facility for the criminally insane where he spent the entire 1960's. This book is full of these brief subplots. These detours from the immediate storyline, while seemingly distracting and insignificant, are written so well that they're worth the lingering.As I mentioned in the beginning, the sentences are peculiar. Every now and then you will run into a phrase so odd and pungent it will seem like it belongs in a Steely Dan B-Side; – "The sky was obscene in its brightness, the crimson rocks a bad joke." – – "Her head was filled with freakery – that she was turning into rubber, that her mind had been replaced with a cassette." – If Gravity's Rainbow wasn't published beforehand to such a notorious uproar I doubt "Dog Soldiers" would have even been nominated for a National Book Award, and that is a good thing.I am easily alienated by stream of consciousness murmurs; up until this book I thought that any writer, excluding revered novelists like Joyce, Nabokov or Faulkner, trying to be strange or surreal only achieves insincere dullness, or, if you will, bullshit. Stone proved me otherwise. What he lacks in lingual innovativeness compared to the icons previously mentioned (occasionally, and maybe deliberately, he'll succumb to vague second-rate hippie mantras like "the mind is a monkey") he compensates with gripping energy and a talent for describing extreme conditions in an accessible, thrilling and cliché-free manner."Dog Soldiers" is a strange bird, but it's a bit more down to earth than most of the famous postmodern works. It is hard not to care about the fate of his flawed main characters. And as Stone himself was a journalist in Saigon, authenticity is guaranteed. It is a chef d'oeuvre of unforgettable murk.Fine, I'll cut the crap; it's a great book.Joey Gold.

Peter

A brisk literary thriller (it won the National Book Award), the kind that isn't really written today. It confirms in my mind (though I didn't have much doubt) that the 1970s were a period of general malaise. It also helps me affirm my decision not to traffic heroin.

Ben Jaques

I'm sorry Kevin, but I didn't like Dog Soldiers. I finished it today on a flight from Washington back to Boston. I was thinking as I flew, what is it about this book that just didn't work with me. I thought that maybe it was the fact that I couldn't relate to the characters or that I didn't like them or didn't understand how they think. But, I know there are many books with unlikable character or characters that I don't understand. Somehow I manage to love these books. I don't know. I don't think that I care for books about running heroin. Or books where characters are referred to by their last names. There was something very much of it's time about the book, a grimy hard edge that just seemed weird. I guess being alive a living 40 years after the dystopian period that is described in the book takes the bite out of it. The world may look like it's going to hell, but we're still around.

Ed

This is Heart of Darkness put in the Vietnam War times and fueled by the addiction and money profits of smack. I liked the hard-nosed attitudes and trancy prose. Rather grim at times.

Patrick McCoy

Dog Soldiers is not what I expected. After seeing the paperback on my father’s bookshelf so many years ago, I thought it was a novel about being a soldier in the Vietnam war (ala the excellent The Things They Carried). Instead, it is a sort of counterculture noir thriller version of The Treasure of Sierra Nevada. It’s about a Vietnam journalist who decides to smuggle heroin into the country and sell it off. But it all goes awry as crooked federal agents become involved as his former Marine buddy Ray Wise goes on the lam with his wife and three kilos of uncut heroin. It’s got a lot of references to the era from which it was spawned: “turned on,” “right on”, “freaks,” etc… But it is a compelling character study of some very different types of people, as well as reflection of the times. I heard that it was made into a film called “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” which was one of Nick Nolte’s first starring roles-I would like to see it sometime to see how it translates to film. It was a very dark, fascinatingly

Kirk

A few weeks ago I happened to catch the 1978 adaptation of this novel, Who'll Stop the Rain, starring Nick Nolte when he was only, like, 36 instead of 902. The movie made me nostalgic for Robert Stone's original novel, so I found a first edition online for amazingly cheap and re-devoured it in a day. It's a great glimpse into scuzzy America c. 1970---the death of the 60s' cultural revolution, when druggie enlightenment turned into junk dealing and free love degenerated into a trip to the titty bar. We tend to look back on that period now either with sentimental moralizing (American Pastoral) or wacky absurdism (Inherent Vice). But Dog Soliders captures what must have felt like the plunge into the abyss of amorality that the so-called counterculture degenerated into in those scary post-Manson days when some revolutionaries argued with a straight face that the original Chuckie doll was right to slaughter the bourgeoisie (excuse me, "the pigs") because---dig, baby---American corruption and hypocrisy was way past redemption. What's perhaps most terrifying about this book is the lack of a moral center. The two main characters, Converse and Hicks, are both corrupt in their own ways, the former a writer scrambling to recapture his gonads by running "scag" into the States after a terrifying breakdown on a Nam battlefield, and the latter a self-fashioned zen/samurai merchant marine who in trying moments reaches for his submachine gun to get to nirvana. When Converse asks Hicks to sneak the H to Converse's wife, Marge, all hell breaks loose, and we're introduced to a variety of frightening simulacra of American capitalism. First and foremost, there's Antheil---which on name alone gets Stone massive points for cool. (George Antheil being a 1920s composer). He's a (maybe) narc who deals, dig, and he has two viscious thugs who do his evil bidding. Then there's the phony Hollywood sorts who wanna ride the dragon because it's hip, the drug hustler with the last name "Peace" who gets off watching other people getting off (so he can rip em off), and the unfortunate roshi who gets a lead sandwich for believing in transcendence. Take that, zen motherfucker!In the hands of a thriller writer, these would be cartoon characters, but for Stone they become opportunities to plumb philosophical reactions to the problem of "engage" (the French noun, not the verb). First and foremost is nihilism, the state of the American soul post-1960s, but also Christian sacrifice and Buddhist poise. If you like your characters well-read and quote-dropping when they beat the shit out of each other (as I do), the dialogue works really well. Plus Hicks is a fairly obvious attempt to assess the legacy of that Holy Fool Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty of Kerouac fame), whom Stone knew from hanging with the Kesey crowd c. 63-64. If you know how Cassady met his unfortunate demise in 1968, Hick's final march out of the desert of American emptiness (wooshy with smack) will ring excitingly familiar. I would say this is definitely a 70s classic, and probably my fave attempt at a postmortem on the 60s.Which makes the movie all the more frustrating. For contemporary viewers it's probably most interesting for the familiar faces. There's Michael Moriarity, soon of the original Law and Order, as Converse. And the GREAT Anthony Zerbe, previously seen wearing a black hood while taunting Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, as Antheil. Ray Sharkey, a great actor now more famous for denying he had AIDS in the eary 90s, along with Richard Masur, who usually plays the judge or the wussy ex-husband. Unfortunately, the script guts the book, despite the use of a lot of the original dialogue. This is especially unfortuante for Moriarty, who usually goes full metal hambone when he acts (see the cult classic Q, or Quetzalcoatl!). Plus the movie is full of those irritating zooms that no director in the 70s could do without when they had to UNDERSCORE A DRAMATIC MOMENT. Then there's Nolte, who was a gorgeous hunk of raw beef in the day. Too bad he has to go proto-Rambo at the movie's end; he's more fun when he's bitch-sapping Charles Haid (shortly of Hill Street Blues!). So watch the movie only if you're into an endless soundtrack of Creedence Clearweater Revival, which no Vietnam flick can resist, just as no baseball movie can do without "Centerfield." Yea, Fogerty!But if you like tough, uncompromising books about fallen people you wouldn't step within ten feet of, these dogs do hunt.

Michael Burroughs

The story is set in the early seventies, as the Vietnam war is winding down. Converse, a journalist/tourist, gets involved in a plan to smuggle a large quantity of heroin into the United States. Converse enlists the help of a marine named Hicks, a sort of American Zen samurai, who smuggles the dope into the states aboard a military boat. Hicks is to meet Marge, the wife of Converse, and thhrough her the dope is to be sold to other parties involved with the deal.Things go horribly wrong. Why would'nt they? Amateurs attempting to pull off a huge drug deal like this are bound to find themselves swimming in deep, unfamiliar waters. Small fish in a rather large sea full of sharks.The heart of the story seems to speak about the times. The seventies, the decade of get as much as you can, do whatever you want, without concern for the consequences. Converse, Hicks and Marge all portray an attitude of "fuck it, might as well try and get what ever I can while I can". As the 60's hippie movement morphed into the 70's it became something else. Something more greedy. Optimism morphing into pessimism. The 60's held the illusion that we could all get high and fuck like rabbits and it would lead us to a better society. The 70's dropped the illusion and we all said lets just get high and fuck for the fun of it, because the world sucks.Every character in this book has little to no redeeming value. They are scared, broken, selfish. They are the 70's encapsulated in flesh.

Stephen

I guess I have discovered that I don't like books about middle-aged malaise ("White Noise", "The Moviegoer"), but I appear to like books with no truly likable characters and no neat and tidy resolution ("Blood Meridian", "Dog Soldiers"). I thought Cormac McCarthy came out of nowhere, but I can see that he probably read some Robert Stone. "Dog Soldiers" is the unhappy tale of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. John Converse is a writer who decides to take up narcotics trafficking while in Vietnam. He sends several kilos of very pure stuff off with a Marine friend, Ray Hicks, to be delivered to his wife Marge in Oakland, CA. Who do you sell Heroin too if you have no history with dealing drugs or any other type of crime? John had some "friends" who apparently turn him in to a corrupt cop, Antheil, and his lackeys. They are waiting for Hicks right when he makes the delivery to Marge and things go to pieces from there. None of the characters are without flaws. Converse is likable enough, but weak and weaselly. Hicks has a bad habit of killing people. Marge is a junky who leaves her young daughter with a stranger (inexcusable as a father) and readily cheats on John. And those are the good characters! The bad ones are corrupt, psychopathic, fake ... The only character I had real sympathy for was Deiter. A former Drug Guru during the height of the Hippy 60's. He reminded me so much of Kesey or Timothy Leary. They thought they had some new ticket to spiritual awareness, to some enlightened existence, but ended up as "Doctor Dope". And I thought that no Boomers actually criticized their own generation, but there it is. I definitely enjoyed this one.

Adam

I always wrote Stone off as a post-Hemingway tough guy writer (which on some levels he is), and really wish someone had slapped me and forced one of his books into my hand. He uses the stark storytelling of Hemingway with the dark forebodings of Conrad and the apocalyptic humor of Nathaniel West. This novel travels through the same anxieties of Pynchon’s Gravity;s Rainbow( with a bag of heroin replacing phallic rocket technology) but with more naturalistic prose, on the edge borderline demented characters in a society seemingly on the edge of exploding into total savagery (whether in Vietnam or California). Lots of allusions to government corruption and the Manson family, this is the novel of the dark heart of early 70’s America, but its concerns seem if not more so, at least as pressing in our new "merciless age"(to quote Bowles).

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