four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
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0

A-FearlessManIt’s 1967, and Marine Captain MacHugh (Mac) Clare is stoically leading the men of his infantry company through the jungles of South Vietnam on a treacherous search-and-destroy mission. The young captain, who has never truly felt fear, must work in tandem with Lieutenant Paul Adrano, an inexperienced navy chaplain who considers his tour of duty to be a test of faith. The novel traces the actions and emotions of these two men and their ragtag troop during the Tet Offensive, while occasionally shifting perspective to include Clare’s anxious wife back at home.
Random House. 560 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400062675

Chicago Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
" ... the gold standard for any other fiction to come out about the war. … It’s a war story that hovers in my mind somewhere between The Iliad and The Naked and the Dead." Alan Cheuse

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Pfarrer writes with grand confidence, expecting readers to keep up with arcane Marine terminology and elaborate combat strategy. … [O]ur reward is a book that unites clear, tight language with painful imagery. Pfarrer bluntly evokes the horrible etiquette of warfare…" Claire Dederer

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"What distinguishes this novel from most specimens of the genre, elevating it into such company as Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, is its acute sense of the volatile nature of courage. … Few war novels are so thoroughly informed by an insider’s knowledge of military tactics, weaponry and language." Milton J. Bates

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Pfarrer] writes like a tank—straightforward and effectively, although he has a magical ability to manipulate you fairly into guessing the wrong ending or missing the mystery of fearlessness until it is sitting on top of you." William Prochnau

Critical Summary

Fearless Man, according to most critics, ranks at the top of the list of Vietnam War lit. This is Pfaffer’s second book about the conflict (after Neverlight), and his best. It’s clear throughout the long narrative (and it might take a hundred pages or so to get into the story) that the author is operating with first-hand information. Pfarrer, a decorated Vietnam vet, also reported on the antiwar movement. His characters are achingly true to life, and the battlefield is bloody to the point of squeamishness. "The novel shows us the low ground and the high, the power and the grit and the filth of battle," writes the Chicago Tribune, "and embraces the broad human spectrum of those who struggle for victory, second by second, blast by blast."