KOKO by Peter Straub is one of the most powerful works of fiction I’ve read over the past few years. I wouldn’t classify it as horror, though it certainly contains horror elements. I would definitely classify it as literature, a work of art lovingly crafted in which every sentence is perfectly designed.
At the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC during the 1980s, four survivors of a platoon that fought hard during the Vietnam War come together to renew their bond while remembering the horrific events they left behind in Asia. The Lieutenant tells the other men he believes another member of their platoon is still living in Asia, murdering people and signing each death by leaving a regimental playing card in their mouth. The men decide to go to Asia, find him, and bring him home.
Many people expect horror novels to be thrillers. This book is not like that. It meanders, it takes its time. The story unfolds in the mess of real life. But getting there is most of the fun in KOKO. It does deep. The most genuine moments of horror occur in the shattering memories of the men and what they had to go through in Vietnam, and the sadness of their living lives many years later that are still defined by what happened to them.
I was surprised to read somewhere that Straub did not serve in Vietnam himself. He tells his story of these veterans lovingly and with incredible pathos.
Recommended for people who like to eat words rather than sweep them into their head with their eyes, for whom reading is a real joy.