Writers have been writing about war since the siege of Troy, but few, if any, have captured the first-person experience of war as deeply as My Vietnam War . Set in 1967 (the deadliest year of the Vietnam War), this memoir-style novel depicts the psychological journey of a young man whose carefree days of studying philosophy at the university are ended by the draft.
The story follows him from his initial rear-echelon assignment in Saigon, where he falls for a mysterious storytelling bar girl, to his eventual posting at an isolated front-line firebase in one of the deepest parts of the Vietnam jungle. While recovering from a leg wound (he is hit by a piece of bone from a fellow soldier who stepped on a booby trap mine), he becomes the assistant medic and sees the horrors of war close up.
The experience begins his steady spiral down into PTSD. After he is seriously wounded, he ends up back in Saigon where, after an old friend from Arizona gets him involved in the underground drug trade, the mysterious bar girl may be his only hope for salvation.
It is a powerful story, well-written, with vivid detail that you will never forget. We highly recommend this book.
Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with Polygamy by Zoe Murdock
Torn by God is the story of a small-town Mormon family torn apart when the father, Michael Sterling, has a vision that leads him to become involved with a polygamist group. Even though the Mormon Church long ago rescinded their religious practice of polygamy, Michael comes to believe that God is telling him to go back to the church's old ways that included personal revelation, communal sharing, and polygamy.
The story is skillfully and passionately told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Beth who is bound to capture every reader's heart as she desperately tries to find a way to hold the family together.
This novel does more than tell one family's tragic story; it explores the controversial association between mainstream Mormons and fundamentalist polygamous off-shoot groups such as those led by Warren Jeffs.
The book is hard to put down once you start reading it. At once chilling and informative, it exposes the destructive power of fundamentalist religious indoctrination and control. This novel is sure to spark lively discussions, and maybe more than a little controversy.
It is a powerful, involving story. We highly recommend it.
The Legend's Daughter by David Kranes
Torrey House Press - 2013
Professor Kranes has done it again with his new book of short stories, The Legend's Daughter. It is a set of stories about people who have intentionally gone to the most remote parts of this country, often to get away from people and their works. But once there, his characters always seem to end up involved in charged interactions with other people who have fled to such places, often for the same reason.
His rendering of these stories reveals his understanding of his characters as well as his mastery of the language. Each of these remarkable stories reveals another facet of Kranes's storytelling skill. His descriptions of places and people are so right on, you will find yourself "there," vicariously participating in the odd situations his characters seem to always find themselves in. We read most of the stories over again, looking for hidden treasures of description and/or insight that we might have missed first time through.
That said, it's not easy to describe a Kranes story. Despite the efficiency of his writing, there is, behind the facade of story, a sense of foreboding, as if something important is always about to be revealed -- even if the characters want to keep it secret. And there is always a mood to his stories. In fact, moodiness could be called the hallmark of a Kranes story. It's what makes you want to read them carefully, maybe even cautiously.
The Legend's Daughter is a storehouse of deftly crafted stories that provide valuable insight into the human condition. We highly recommend it.
Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett
Graywolf Press - 2013
This is one of the most interesting novels to come into the pubic view this year. Despite it being described as "postmodern," the book is getting some serious notice, probably because it was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. Despite that, the book has received some quite negative reviews (Lost In Everett's Hall Of Metafictional Mirrors. So, what does the L.A. Times panel of judges see in the book that the reviewers didn't? They are not saying.
In a book review, you're supposed to start out by describing what the book is about. Not so easy with this book. As the title suggests, Everett is not afraid to muddle the distinction between author and protagonist. This is something he has done before; for example in his novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier (Graywolf Press - 2009).
That said, here goes. The novel is "about" illness and the loss of physical and mental ability, but it is also about relationships - specifically about the relationship between parent and child.
The novel starts out with a father telling his son about a dream. The dream starts us down a path the leads to diverse stories, lots of stories.
Well, this is supposed to be a "minute" review, so we'll just say it takes some work on the part of the reader to follow the nonlinear chain of stories. When an author requires some work on the part of the reader, he becomes known as a "postmodern" author. So be it. But whatever you think about Everett's experimental fiction and his variety of stories within the main story, you will soon discover that he's a heck of a good storyteller. Therefore, we think you will enjoy this novel if you stick with it long enough to "get it." After all, as one of the characters in the novel says, "Where's the joy in saying anything flat out?"
Don't you just love a funny sci-fi novel? What, you haven't ever read a funny sci-fi novel? Well, here's your chance.
The novel start out telling us, "I know that some of you reading this are convinced human are a myth, but I am here to state they actually do exist." That should tell you right off that this is not your usual narrator. No, this narrator is an alien sent to Earth to knock of Earth's top scientists (lest these humans get too advanced too quickly).
And he (it?) does the job he was sent to do. Then he then takes on the shape of the dead man, which means he is going to have to fool the scientist's colleagues his family. Therein lies the rub. After he gets over how disgustingly ugly humans are, he begins to find them quite lovable - which is a no-no on his emotionless home planet.
To some degree, the story is the punch line that follows, "How would we ever explain this (politics, customs, mating rituals. . . fill in the blank) if aliens came here from outer space?" And that is the essence of the story: they just wouldn't get it.
The visiting-alien format provides the author with a way to examine our society "from without," and he does so with relish. We enjoyed reading this book, and we think you will too.
A Psalm for Cock Robin - A Harp and His (Dead) Mother Mystery by E.E. "Doc" Murdock
This is another mystery from one of our favorite authors. Although this new novel follows a typical murder mystery format, it is anything but typical. The supposed protagonist is a gentle young man named Harp who now lives under the Santa Monica pier after he was accidentally released from a mental hospital. When he wakes up one morning to find another homeless man lying dead right next to him, he runs away but soon becomes the main suspect in the murder. Harp must find the killer before the police find him.
Does that sound like a familiar murder mystery plot? Yep, but is isn't, not really. We are given access to Harp's bizarre thoughts as he searches among a wild assortment of Venice Beach crazies for clues about who the murderer might be, but he clearly is not much of a detective. Therefore, he is going to need the help of his caustic, sarcastic Bible-quoting mother who is pretty darn sharp. It's clear Harp is going to have to rely on her to solve the mystery. The only problem is she's dead.
What's that? Dead? That's right. She's dead. Died a few years back under mysterious circumstances. But through the interface of Harp's mind, we are given access to his mother's voice as she keeps him on the straight and narrow, often by quoting the grimmest of Grimm's fairy tales, the only thing she let Harp read when he was a child. His weird fairy tale thoughts, combined with his dead mother's constant harassing voice, ends up feeling like two protagonists in one head.
As weird as this may sound, the book is actually very funny. You'll find yourself laughing out loud (whether you want to or not). It's a classic murder mystery, but with a postmodern twist, one you'll never forget. We highly recommend it.
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