Some months ago in this blog, I explained that one origin of the novel, Last of the Annamese, is a short story called “Trip Wires” (published in the Antietam Review, Spring, 1999, and in my book Friendly Casualties, 2012). In that story, I told of the murder of one soldier by another in Vietnam.
At the time I wrote the story, I was a father of young children, all now adults. I shuddered at the thought that my son might someday face combat and death. I imagined how the father of the dead soldier in my story must have felt. From that imagining came the character of Chuck Griffin, the father of Ben Griffin, the soldier killed in “Trip Wires.” Chuck is the protagonist of Last of the Annamese.
After the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973, Chuck, a retired Marine officer, returns to Vietnam as an intelligence analyst, determined to do all he can to win the war. He has been told that Ben died in combat, and he can’t tolerate the idea that if the North Vietnamese win the war, his son will have given up his life for nothing. During the course of the novel, Chuck learns that Ben didn’t die in combat but was killed by another American soldier. So his reason for returning to Vietnam, where he himself had seen combat, becomes meaningless. His discovery of the facts surrounding Ben’s death are one of the many dark ironies in the novel.
But Chuck never learns the full story of Ben’s death. Those facts never appear in Last of the Annamese. Only a reader who knows “Trip Wires” has the pertinent details on why Ben was murdered. In writing first the story and then the novel, I created the paradox that some readers know more than others and even know more than the protagonist about an essential factor in the story.