See the previous book in this series, Hill 568.
If Zack Emerson had continued to write novels in the vein of Welcome to Vietnam and Hill 568, I imagine that the series could have quickly gotten old. In fact, when I first read the series, I read ‘Tis the Season (#3) second, since Hill 568 was not immediately available to me.
At the time, I was somewhat disappointed, I think: as a boy, I found the story of Rebecca the Army Nurse to be less thrilling than that of Michael the Infantry Grunt, hauling a machine gun around the jungle. She was, after all, a girl. On later readings, however, and—thank the lord—advancing age and maturity, I rediscovered ‘Tis the Season as the pivotal point in Emerson’s series.
Hill 568 culminated on Thanksgiving; ‘Tis the Season coalesces around Christmas, so it maintains a chronological progression in this respect. But this third book suddenly replaces the character of Michael Jennings with that off a perky 20-year-old nurse, Rebecca, who works in the evacuation hospital at Chu Lai. Though she spends her free time singing to poor, blown-apart patients and getting cheeky with Major Doyle, the Chief Nurse, it’s immediately clear that Rebecca is damaged goods, having run to Vietnam in order to escape some unpleasant in her white-bread East Coast upbringing. She’s also terribly smart (an overachiever) with a surgeon-father and a brother who’s hiding in Canada. All in all, Emerson does a lot more—and a lot more quickly—with the character of Rebecca as a psychological puzzle to unwind. While Michael may simply be surly, Rebecca seems to feel alienated from everyone, despite her friendly demeanor.
The forward momentum of the story comes from Rebecca’s decision to (against all regulations) ride aboard an ill-fated medevac (medical evacuation chopper) during the Christmas ceasefire; she is the only surviving member of that party, wandering for hours in the jungle on a broken ankle. Other events happen which thicken the pot (which I won’t divulge here), though needless to say if you’ve read the cover matter, she is found by none other that Michael Jennings leading his squad through the jungle.
I had the distinct impression when I read ‘Tis the Season that it was Emerson’s attempt at a spin-off, piloting some tangential character on adventures of her own, stopping briefly for the usual cast to make a cameo appearance and remind the reader that they still have the right series. If I may belabor the spin-off analogy somewhat, Rebecca ends up being the Frasier to Michael’s Cheers, since it is in fact the character of Rebecca which ultimately drove Emerson to write an out-of-series conclusion to her story, under her real name, Ellen Emerson White.
Rebecca is a successful spin-off, I think, because Emerson takes such care to construct her. The story of Michael is good, to be sure, but it’s the sort of heavily-dramatized war relationship, that of a man with his squadmates; the complicated story of a Evac nurse (one with especially good psychological baggage) is somewhat more rare. It’s a bit more like M.A.S.H., but not the funny-ha-ha M.A.S.H. we’re used to; rather, it’s sort of a spiritual successor of the horrifying series finale1.
I’ll have considerably more to say about Rebecca as a character when I cover this series finale, The Road Home, later. Let’s just say for now that ‘Tis the Season, though an odd interlude in the proposed subject of the Echo Company series, marks a pivotal moment in the development of the story and its players.
- See “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”[↩]