On Distant Ground
David Fleming and the Army lawyer who would defend him bent, and together they laced their jogging shoes, a gesture that felt vaguely fraternal to David and made him uncomfortable. They didn’t run yet but sat on the bench on the hill up from Fort Holabird. David looked out to the southeast, to Baltimore harbor, the morning fog slung down even to the tops of the cranes along the quays. He wanted to run to slow this beating of his heart. The vengeance that the Army sought frightened him in a physical way, in spite of the detachment of his mind.
“I heard on the radio that the MeKong Delta has been cut off,” the lawyer said.
There was a tone of sincere sadness in the voice that drew David’s attention. It struck him how little he knew of this man, Carl Lomas. Like David, an Army captain. Like David, thirty now and in the service a little longer than he’d expected to be. Superficial things. After the Army stirred itself into wrath, David had been repulsed by the civilian lawyers his father-in-law had sent to him and he’d settled for this man, appointed by the convening authority. Lomas kept his profile to David and the sadness lingered in this silence. A foghorn called from the harbor.
“I hadn’t heard,” David said.
“The Communists are going to win now,” Lomas said. “The South’s done for.”
“It always has been.”
“A very fine book… With the publication of On Distant Ground, Robert Olen Butler stands alone as the most accomplished Vietnam war novelist.”
– The Baltimore Sun
“Gripping… The novel fully captivates with its subtle tension… One of the book’s greatest strengths is its vivid depiction of Saigon as it awaits the imminent Communist takeover. Evocative but subdued, Butler’s prose manages to capture a multitude of emotional tones mingling on the streets… Fleming’s private story grows all the more urgent against this tense and haunting backdrop.”
– The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“It is a tribute to Butler’s skill that his story’s pyramiding absurdities seem not merely plausible but inevitable. He achieves his effects by building tension through small details… His description of what Saigon must have been like in the days after its fall is subtle and eerie and entirely memorable.”
– The New York Times Book Review
“Like Graham Greene, Robert Olen Butler writes psychological thrillers that not only entertain on a surface level of suspense, but explore the deeper moral ambiguities of human behavior.”
– The San Francisco Chronicle
“It will no longer be possible for the importance of Butler’s work to be overlooked. His latest novel is his most ambitious and his best. It may very well be the best anyone has produced in recent years… Butler is a master storyteller.”
– The Fort Worth Star Telegram