Book Review: M.A.S.H. A Novel About Three Army Doctors

MASHI’m an avid M.A.S.H. fan. I grew up in a household with parents who watched the reruns nearly every night. My mom especially seemed to have it perpetually on. But I never really understood the appeal of the show until I started watching it myself. It’s weird how you pick up on a select number of your parents’ habits as you grow older. But you do. It seems like we all do. Eventually you realize that you’re a lot like your folks, and it scares you a bit. Honestly though, it’s a happy, understanding sort of scared. Like you somehow know them better and love them more deeply, but secretly wonder if your kids will one day look at you like you’re crazy.

In my mid-twenties I picked up a personal love for M.A.S.H., and over the course of three years, I watched through the entire series. Eleven seasons, twenty-four episodes each (usually anyway), for a grand total of 251 total episodes. Steadily one episode after another I watched, and it became a part of my life. When I finished the series, there was a sort of melancholy that set upon me, like I’d lost a good friend, and life would never quite be the same. It literally felt like I was leaving college or something. I felt that way because it’s a show about characters. And you grow to like those characters, even love those characters, and you feel like they’re a part of your life. Now they’re leaving, and it’s sort of sad. I loved M.A.S.H. not just for the characters though, I also loved it because it transported me to another place, one with war and death and adventure and humor and cold nights and hot summers and meaning and moodiness and all-around life. It’s a show about life, about humanity, and I love it.

The movie upon which the tv show was based is a little different. Not too different, but different. Same characters, many of the same actors, but with a much darker sort of humor. It’s a bit of a scandalous movie, touching on subjects that at the time, and even now, seem too taboo to talk about. You watch, and you laugh, and you’re not sure if you should be laughing. A sort of Southpark approach decades before Southpark existed. Many who like the tv show don’t appreciate the movie, and many who like the movie don’t appreciate the tv show. Personally I love them both. And by saying that, I’m not trying to make any sort of moral evaluation, I’m just admitting that I like them.

I just finished reading the book, which I had never read before. In case you didn’t know, the book is the genesis of the movie, the tv show, everything. It was written in 1968 by Richard Hooker. Really it was written H. Richard Hornberger because Hooker is a pseudonym, but whatever. It’s a book about three army doctors, their friends, and all the craziness that they caused as surgeons at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Hooker indicated that the storyline was based roughly on his own experiences in the Korean War while stationed at a M.A.S.H. unit. According to Hooker’s son, the lead character, Hawkeye Pierce, was loosely based upon his dad, and in some senses is autobiographical. It makes me wonder how loosely because it’s hard to believe that the characters in this book, affectionately referred to as “The Swampmen,” could really pull off all the comical hijinks that the book entails. Secretly, as a reader of the book, you sort of hope they really did pull off all of the craziness. It seems a bit too over-the-top to be true, but maybe not. And it’s this sort of flirting with the line of reality that makes the entire book work as a pleasing bit of fiction to read.

M.A.S.H. is hilarious. Multiple times I laughed out loud. But be warned! The humor is even darker than the movie. It would be rather easy to find yourself offended if you didn’t know what you were getting into. But as an avid M.A.S.H. fan, I highly recommend it!

4 out of 5 Cups of Black Coffee.


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