Theasa Tuohy has worked for five daily newspapers and the Associated Press. We are told that her excellent new book, The Five O’Clock Follies: What’s a Woman Doing Here, Anyway? (Calliope Press, 368 pp. $14.99), is a work of fiction, but it is a very well-researched work.
I deduced from a comment about Graham Greene’s book about Vietnam being twelve years old that this novel takes place in 1967 and 1968. I was in Saigon during much of that period, and spent some time on Tu Do Street and in and out of the Caravelle and Continental Hotels where many of the scenes of this novel take place. The author nails this milieu precisely. Nice job. It’s almost as though Theasa Tuohy had been there at the time.
The author’s descriptions of how the distant sky looked, observed from the bank of the Saigon River or from a floating restaurant when B-52’s were bombing ten miles away, also is spot on. It’s also beautifully written.
The author’s delineation of the character and behavior of Army Colonels and CIA types is also deadly accurate. All the news folks ring true, too. But I admit I’m taking them on faith, as I spent no time with “hard-nosed newsmen” when I was in Southeast Asia. I would see them from a neighboring table in various bars from time to time, but that was it.
The main character, Angela Martinelli, is believable. It is fascinating to watch her adjust to the business of gathering news in a war zone. The main problem is having to deal with the Old Boys’ Network, which mostly shuts her out of access loops. But she’s armed with a journalism degree from Northwestern and a lot of grit and determination.
The character Bo Parks reminds me of a famous photographer who was in Vietnam taking great photos and taking great risks to get them. He takes to Angela, and helps her connect with the war to get stories of her own. He rings so true as to be a portrait from true life, right down to his rotten teeth and his love of Jimi Hendrix. Angela soon learns to develop her own stories and skip past the focus on body counts to write about field hospitals and war orphans.
As a free-lance reporter with no home newspaper, Angela has to sell her stories in order to earn enough money to eat and pay her hotel bills. She is under the gun. Also, if the stories she writes do not jibe with the official line, the editors back home will kill them.
The author has Angela Martinelli arrive in Vietnam at just the right time. She gets to report on the Tet Offensive, the Siege of Khe Sanh, the rotor problems of the Chinook—not to mention being captured by the NVA and the VC, surviving a helicopter crash, and having an affair with the most prominent and respected newsman in Vietnam. All of this is related with attention to detail and with a gift for story-telling.
The book has an open-ended ending, which I hope means there will be a sequel, as I would enjoy reading the rest of the story.
I can report that the book lives up to the buzz I had heard about it several months ago. I am pleased to report that The Five O’Clock Follies may be added to the short list of good, well-written books about the press in Vietnam.