The Sorceress of Menlo Park by Richard Sloan

Richard Sloan served in the Marine Corps from 1966-69, including a 1967-68 tour of duty in the Vietnam War. In his novel, The Sorceress of Menlo Park (Amazon Digital Services, 398 pp., $5.99, Kindle), the title character’s father is a captain in the Marine Corps who was stationed near Oakland doing intelligence debriefings of returning personnel from Vietnam shortly after his own tour ended.

The plot centers around the title character, Joanne, whose high school history teacher pale when the Vietnam War was mentioned in history class, and did not permit her to do a history project on the war. Joanne was conceived when her father met up with her mother in Hawaii on R&R. She is a genius who is considered to be “a barbarian invading the fortress” by the establishment, as she is developing a microchip to be inserted into the brain to cure a neuro-muscular disease called Nivlem’s Syndrome.

Joanne also is a marketing genius who has fashioned herself into “a Big Breasted Bad Girl” whose images sell millions of dollars worth of clothes and perfume. But she also has an impeccable record of helping the downtrodden, including veterans with PTSD. She works with them in clay therapy at the VA Hospital in Menlo Park.

The villain in this novel, the Reverend Turner Byrne, uses Joanne’s near-naked marketing ploys as weapons against her. She warns the Reverend Byrne that she is a confirmed Lutheran and a goddess who can spit fire at those who dare to go against her. She accomplishes the fire spitting through muscle control.

There are many references to the Vietnam War throughout this novel, which sometimes reads like a term paper for a high-level graduate course in business. Twice a particularly loathsome minor character spits out the epithet “baby killer” when Vietnam veterans are a topic. I believe is it is she who also says: “Every Vietnam veteran is a psychotic.”

There’s a visit to the Wall in Washington, and there’s a long speech in which Joanne’s father: “The irony is that while the country called on us to defend it, those who did answer that call were the ones scorned and treated with contempt for that very reason.”

This reader asked himself how a 23-year-old woman who is happy with the image of herself as a “Big Breasted Bad Girl” and serves cookies to wounded veterans can subject herself to a ranting Reverend Byrne. Especially when she is a goddess who can spit fire. It seems unlikely.

But I’ll leave it to other readers to decide.

—David Willson

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