by Mark Treanor
Winner of the 2021 William E. Colby Military Writer’s Award, Mark Treanor’s first novel, A Quiet Cadence, deftly illustrates the interlacing dichotomies of humanity, both the compassion and malevolence, when hurtled into war and the deeply entrenched wounds that remain long after. Treanor depicts a brutally honest portrayal of the war in Vietnam from the perspective of 19-year-old Marty McClure. Touting a negligible amount of college credits and a hurried enthusiasm to do his part, McClure enlists in the Marine Corps. Treanor’s novel chronicles McClure’s tenebrific descent into darkness during the months he spends in the bush with his platoon and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of returning to the world afterward.
Throughout Treanor’s novel, he outlines several poignant and salient issues on military trauma during and after the war. Treanor’s characters discuss the courage necessary not just to be physically courageous in battle but to have the fortitude and valor necessary to make difficult decisions. As McClure and his fellow Marines begin their descent, Treanor is exacting in his depiction of the brutality these men are capable of in how they view the Vietnamese and their inability to distinguish civilians from the enemy. As McClure’s friends are injured and killed, the necessity of compartmentalization becomes clear, “Bad things went in boxes, some of which never got opened again until after we were back in the World.” In addition to boxing up his trauma, McClure begins to question his faith, wondering how God can do nothing as his world burns. He further questions his sacrifice, feeling as if he is not worthy of recognition or commendation, as his sacrifice pales to those made by others. While this maelstrom of conflicts rages on, the seemingly elusive and irrelevant concept of a world outside of the war comes into focus, elucidated by both a complex and innocuous question: “How are you doing?” As McClure returns to the world, Treanor illuminates the hardships of reintegration and the inconvenient truth of how Vietnam veterans were treated by their countrymen once on native soil.
Treanor’s depictions of the war in Vietnam are both vivid and gruesome, undoubtedly bolstered by his own experience in the Vietnam War. Readers familiar with the theater of war will undoubtedly recognize the nuanced descriptions, harkening them back to the sights, smells, and emotions tied to those memories. While the potential for triggering a reaction from the limbic system looms large for some readers, others may benefit from the knowledgeable insights offered by the author. Treanor paints a clear picture of a lived experience, providing a concise outline of expectations for those readers who may follow afterward. Admirably, Treanor conveys, in animated language, the importance of talking with others about their trauma and the benefit of seeking help sooner. As a Marine Corps veteran himself, conveying the advantages of seeking support is both significant and refreshing.
Regrettably, Treanor falls short of connecting with audiences who are not associated with the Marine Corps. The absence of footnotes becomes a significant hurdle for non–Marine Corps readers. The abundance of military jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations soon alienates readers, requiring them to discern meaning from contextual clues, which even then can be difficult to parse out. At times, the pacing of the novel while in Vietnam and afterward moves in a somewhat disjointed fashion where significant plot devices are stitched together without fluid transitions, making it difficult to become engrossed in the story. Not to detract from the book’s ending, it is poignant and powerful, and it will surely draw tears from even the most rigid, stoic individual.
To the counselors seeking ancillary texts to provide to their clients, A Quiet Cadence consistently conveys the value and long-term benefit of being open and emotionally vulnerable to others. Treanor delicately presents the real face of post-traumatic stress without the sensationalizing embellishments characteristic of Hollywood’s interpretations. This accurate portrayal makes tangible the elusive, unnamed emotions that so often inundate veterans returned from war. The value of Treanor’s descriptive meaning-making is enormous to those unconversant with the counseling profession, enabling them to find a foothold and contextualize their ever-abrupt torrent of emotions. Restraint, however, should be applied by counseling professionals working with clients not yet stable in treatment. The sometimes too elaborate depictions of carnage, enmeshed with language that stimulates a sensorial reaction, may provoke harmful manifestations. Alongside therapy and with an experienced counselor, this novel delivers the framework for a conversational agenda, potentially helping clients to identify subject matters to address during therapy they may have otherwise minimized or overlooked entirely.
Treanor, M. (2020). A quiet cadence: A novel. Naval Institute Press.
Reviewed by: Ashley E. Wadsworth, MS, NCC, LCMHC, LCAS-A
The Professional Counselor