“Life Dust: A Novel” by Pam Webber

The year is 1971 and the war in Vietnam has been fought by U.S. forces for seven years. Nettie is a caring, no-nonsense nurse in a Virginia hospital. Her life revolves around her work and her boyfriend Andy. Andy is stationed in Fort Benning, but is soon to be deployed to Vietnam. Nettie and Andy share a deep love and affection that can withstand the Andy’s distant service. As they bade each other goodbye, both are determined to see each other again and get married.

Andy is chosen to command a Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol in Vietnam. He needs to get his men ready to fight the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. Andy is frustrated by the meddlesome military bureaucracy and the rules of engagement that hamper his squad’s combat efforts. Andy has to contend with chaotic forces of mother nature, deadly animals of various types and the immaturity of soldiers. Any of those could get Andy and his men killed.

Nettie contends with her own issues back in the United States. A patient she saved from imminent death has taken a shine to her. Nettie looks in on the patient and has long, fruitful conversations about life. However, a fellow nurse has zeroed in on Nettie as a troublemaker and attempts to have her reprimanded or removed from the hospital entirely. Nettie’s resolve is tested as she has to navigate through the turbulence in career and personal life.

Life Dust is a strong fictional drama from author Pam Webber (The Wiregrass, Moon Water). The book focuses on the experiences of Andy and Nettie, as they both cope with their separation due to the increasingly unpopular war in Southeast Asia. The frustration experienced by Nettie as she awaits word from Andy resonates profoundly as well as the possibility that he may never come home. Webber’s portrayal of Nettie is as a strong woman who, while longing for her love’s return, doesn’t while away her days. Nettie excels at her position, provides exemplary care and gets involved in the war effort on the home front. The emotional wringer that the families of soldiers are put through during their loved one’s service is written with empathy and tact. Andy is a natural leader with a willingness to challenge authority, even to his own detriment. He wants to take the battle to the enemy, but doesn’t want to lose a man. Nettie is his world, and he is fighting his way back to her.

Webber highlights the human cost of war, both in Vietnam and stateside. The families of prisoners of war (POW) and missing in action (MIA) are not a silent minority, but powerful activists demanding answers from the military and political leaders who sent their men abroad. The emotional tone of the book is attuned to those who are left behind to wait their loved one’s return. Life Dust doesn’t limit itself to being a drama with romantic undertones, but a character-driven book where love, war and humanity attempt to co-exist. A brilliant piece of writing to be enjoyed by many.

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