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Snowblood's Journal by Bob Linsenman
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Snowblood's Journal

by Bob Linsenman

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Recently added byTimBazzett

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SNOWBLOOD'S JOURNAL, Bob Linsenman's novel of Vietnam, had all the elements of a great read. The protagonist, Jason Snowblood, was from northern Michigan. He and his "double cousin," Benny Coyne, were very close and an interesting mix of Native American and Irish heritage. They had been high school football stars, heavily recruited by major colleges, and had played for Michigan. Then in 1967, their student deferments expired, they went into the army together and ended up in Vietnam as Scout Dog handlers, a small, elite and specialized group. And this is where the story should have gotten even better. Unfortunately the author, who obviously did a lot of research about the operations the army was conducting in Vietnam in the 1967-68 period, made the mistake of letting the historical facts and figures - all that research - slow down the forward momentum of the narrative. Instead of working more on character development, storyline and dialogue, he stuffed the narrative with the names of specific military operations, body counts, numbers of American deaths and injuries, etc. - i.e. what you heard on the news every night. Plot and character languished.

I found much of the first hundred pages or so to be turgidly slow and became frustrated and impatient. It picked up for a while when Benny becomes an emotional and mental casualty of combat and is evacuated back to the U.S. for treatment. There are elements of the supernatural here, intimations that Benny has shape-shifting powers, has always had them. I mean, shades of Tony Hillerman's SKINWALKERS, except Linsenman's treatment of this Native American belief isn't really all that convincing. The author is at his best when describing the cousins' love of fly fishing and certain rivers.
This comes as no surprise, since Linsenman has written several well-received books about fishing Michigan rivers. In one scene, Jason is imagining himself an old man on a river bank with his dog -

"He slowly lowered his arms and laid face down on a mix of white pine needles and old cedar. He put both hands in the river's gentle side current and felt a cool tingle creep up his forearms. The river always helped. It sucked poison from his soul."

Passages like this made me think of Nick Adams, newly returned from his war, fishing the "Big Two-Hearted River." This is not to say that Linsenman is any Hemingway, but he knows fishing, and he knows the healing power of streams and rivers.

There have been countless novels of Vietnam in the past forty years, but not many about the war dogs and handlers from that war. That angle alone would have made this book unique. Unfortunately there is simply not enough detail included about the dogs and their role, and Jason and Benny remain underdeveloped as characters. Jason tries desperately to bring his dog home with him as his tour nears its end, but his requests fall on unsympathetic ears, as the military tells him that the dog is "military equipment and nothing more."

There is a surprise twist tied on at the end (which was inconclusive and anticlimactic), but it seemed contrived and simply did not ring true. SNOWBLOOD'S JOURNAL is not a bad book; it suffers mostly from too much telling and not enough showing. I'm confident, however, that Linsenman's loyal fans will probably find this book an interesting curiosity, and will add it to their collection, placing it on the same shelf with his fly fishing books. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 12, 2014 |
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