This debut novel of the Vietnam War from the veteran and famous Merry Prankster is a “cross between Joseph Heller and Hunter S. Thompson” (Booklist).
Lt. Tom Huckelbee, leathery as any Texican come crawling out of the sage, and Lt. Mike Cochran, loquacious son of an Ohio gangster, make an unlikely pair training to be marine corps chopper pilots on their way to Vietnam. But they soon go through a strange transformation together—from a couple of know-nothing young men straight out of flight school into marine aviators caught in the middle of a disorienting war.
Tough and comical, quiet and boisterous, and always vivid and poetic, Ken Babbs—who cowrote The Last Go Round with fellow Prankster Ken Kesey—is at the top of his craft in this debut novel. Who Shot the Water Buffalo? manages to capture the tumult of the 1960s in all its guts and glory through the eyes of a young man discovering what it means to be beholden to another.
“An impeccable, humorous heirloom, a shock of napalm that smells like . . . victory.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Notorious Merry Prankster Babbs finally delivers a first novel, the vividly wild story of an unlikely friendship between two Vietnam war helicopter pilots-in-training. Huckelbee and Cochran are primarily concerned with partying and women. "I'm getting my first full bore look at a naked feminine body in way too many days to be the slightest bit cool. She catches my shit eating grin, gives me a wan smile and shakes her head, "Too big..." But before long the pair find themselves entwined in a vicious war with nothing but alcohol for a reprieve. Babbs's witty characters turn otherwise grim situations into humorous events. Though his depictions of Huckelbee's fast-paced thoughts and language are particularly entertaining, it's Cochran who does most of the talking, and he's the rough and tough friend that brings trouble with his mean mug and harsh tongue. Babbs's characters are crass and outspoken and buzz to life on the page. Most of Babbs's fellow Merry Pranksters, like Ken Kesey and Robert Stone, published first novels decades ago. Though Babbs co-wrote Last Go Round with Kesey, a full-length solo effort has been a long time coming. It's an impeccable, humorous heirloom, a shock of napalm that smells like...victory.