Abby and the Old Guy by Robert

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Robert Quinn’s Abby and the Old Guy (Independently Published, 500 pp. $14.99, paper)is a massive male-fantasy romance novel. The time period is November of 2007 to February of 2009.

Quinn is a lawyer and financial services professional who served in the Air Force in Vietnam from 1969-70 and is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America. His main character, Matt Flynn, is also a Vietnam veteran and a “part-time attorney and part-time financial guy.”

Flynn—a great name for a hero, by the way—meets Abigail McKay in a New England coffee shop on the first page. If this were a movie, at this point we wouldn’t be through the opening credits. The 61-year-old Flynn, widowed for ten years, and the 26-year-old grad student immediately fall in love.

We follow the lovers through a dialogue-driven novel that also includes lots of descriptions, mainly of meals, clothes—and of the two main characters undressing each other.

It’s a work of male fantasy because Abby loves the body of a man who has thirty-five years on her, and because she invites him into her apartment on their second day together. Whereupon they have glorious sex.

It’s a work of male fantasy because Abby, whom Flynn he calls “Beauty,” is constantly saying things any older man would love to hear. That includes that she finds him more interesting than guys her age.

It’s also male fantasy because Flynn, whom Abby lovingly calls “Old Guy,” is an extremely virile man. They make love their first eight, at least, days together. And they don’t stop there. After the first month they calculate—yes, they keep track—that they’ve made love 130 times. After eight months the number reaches almost a thousand, which works out to an average of “four times a day.”

The novel covers fifteen months in which Flynn and Abby meet, fall in love, move in together, get engaged, get married, and have a child. They also make love 1,481 times. That’s mathematically possible because when her pregnancy causes abdominal cramps she believes she will feel better if they have sex, which they do nearly up to the day she delivers. The book ends with the suggestion that their new baby is not going to slow them down any.

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Bob Quinn

Flynn’s Vietnam War experience plays a small part in the story, primarily in a short section when we learn that Abby’s family respects him for his military service.

Bob Quinn is a hell of a writer and this giant novel is immensely readable. But not all that much happens and Flynn’s one-way “conversations” with his deceased wife early on in the book were a little off-putting.

I guess if you buy the book’s main premise, you’ll by okay with what transpires. If you don’t buy it—and I didn’t—then not much of the novel will work for you.

—Bill McCloud

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Emmet and the Boy by Terence O’Leary

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Terence O’Leary’s Emmet and the Boy: A Story of Endless Love and Hope (Swan Creek Press, 241 pp., $12.99, paper; $8.99, Kindle) is a work of fiction written for young adults as were many of O’Leary’s earlier works. This book is every bit as strong as O’Leary’s 2017 novel, Bringing Boomer Home. There is a lot in the new book about the process of dying from cancer and Hospice. Since I am currently dying from cancer, I found a lot to identify with.

The Old Man, the main character of this story, suffers through the lingering death of his wife, the love of his life, and tries to find the will to go on living. His grandson was abandoned by his father following his parents’ nasty divorce, and is hiding in a fantasy world.

Somehow, the mismatched aspect of their generations makes it possible for them to communicate. They hide out at Grandpa’s lakeside cabin way out in the Michigan woods. The Old Man, Emmet, tries to help the boy, Colin, heal, as he himself begins to heal by getting over the death of his beloved wife.

The book consists of simple short chapters. Some are just discussions between the Old Man and the boy about the meaning of life or past experiences. My favorite chapter comes late in the book when the subject of war rears its ugly head.

“You were in the Army?’

“Just for a couple of years.”

“Were you in a war?”

The Old Man does not want to talk about the war, but he goes ahead and does so. He’s asked if he killed anyone.

“I was a medic. My job was to try to save people, not kill them.”

“That’s cool.  I bet you were good at it.” 

The Old Man goes on to discuss further the Vietnam War. 

“They say time heals all. It doesn’t. The memories of Viet Nam are still with me like ghosts in the corner.” 

I highly recommend this sensitive book to young adults, and to those who are not so young. O’Leary is one of the best writers currently writing to this audience.

The author’s website is www.terenceoleary.com

—David Willson

The Life of an Airborne Ranger by Michael B. Kitz-Miller

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“I wanna be an Airborne Ranger; I wanna live a life of danger.” So cadenced our Basic Training Drill Instructor all those years ago. In The Life of an Airborne Ranger: Donovan’s Skirmish (Koehler Books, 332 pp. $29.95, hardcover; $18.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle) Michael Kitz-Miller presents us with what he calls a “work of fiction” that appears to rely heavily on the lives and stories of people he came in contact with during his time in the Army. A better description of this book might be “autobiographical fiction.”

The book follows protagonist Jack Donovan’s exploits from early childhood, through a stellar and bemedaled military career, to his quick marriage and his next assignments, which apparently will be chronicled in the next two offerings of Kitz-Miller’s proposed trilogy.

I was struck with the thought that young Jack Donovan may be the re-embodiment of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy of the popular radio serial of the 1940s, in that he’s just too good to be true. He also could be the Audie Murphy of the Vietnam War. He has Dr. Ben Casey-style healing and recuperative skills, as well as just off-the-charts expertise in all things military, including being an expert marksman with every weapon he picks up and uses.

Donovan leaves high school, goes through dead-end jobs and a truncated college effort, and then joins the Army. He finishes at the top of his classes in Basic and AIT. And he does very well in Recondo, Ranger, and Airborne schools. He sees action in the decade prior to the run-up of the Vietnam War. Then Donovan earns a chest full of medals serving in Vietnam, including the Medal of Honor for heroic, life-saving actions during an engagement that becomes known as Donovan’s Skirmish.

He also plans and executes large-scale operations anhqdefaultd develops ARVN training programs during his first tour. After recuperating from many wounds, he takes time away from the military to complete college, and while he’s at it, joins an ROTC unit so he can graduate as an officer. And he meets his future bride, the wonderful Mary Clarke.

In his Author’s Note, Kitz-Miller suggests that “If there are mistakes, inaccuracies, errors they are certainly mine.” Disregarding the book’s literary qualities, this was a tough one to work through because of misspellings, incomplete or missing punctuation, incomplete sentences, and syntactical errors.

One hopes Michael Kitz-Miller will seek better editorial help with his next literary project.

–Tom Werzyn

Big Bang by David Bowman

 

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David Bowman’s Big Bang (Little Brown, 624 pp., $32, hardcover; $15.99, Kindle) is a posthumously published historical novel by an acclaimed author who died in 2012 at the age of fifty-four.

This giant book is as intense and as dense as a documentary as Bowman follows the lives and happenstances of nearly all of the newsworthy people who lived from 1950-63, the period of time the novel covers. Bowman’s close friend, the novelist Jonathan Lethem, tries his best in a lengthy introduction to prepare the reader for what will come in the book.

I have not read Bowman’s previous novels: Let the Dog Drive, Bunny Modern, or This Must Be the Place, so I was unprepared for his writing style and narrative methods. It says on the front of the book that it is a novel. But it is not a novel in the tradition of a Louis L’Amour western, say; it’s much more akin to Laurence Sterne’s classic 18th century novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

If you flip through the pages of Big Bang, you’ll notice that the characters have familiar names such as Ngo Dinh Diem, Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Dr. Spock, Jimi Hendrix, J.D. Salinger, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Norman Mailer, and dozens of other real-life headliners

The chapter headings fit with the names. It’s not until Book II that this reviewer, looking for references to the Vietnam War, found “The American Embassy, Saigon, South Viet-Nam, 1963.”  Many much earlier chapter headings, such as “Cody, Montana, 1955-1956,” also interested me.

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Bowman

It’s hard not to think of this book as a massive writing achievement, especially upon learning of the head injury that Bowman suffered as a young man, and the cerebral hemorrhage that caused his early death.

I am tempted to find one of his earlier books and take a shot at reading it to see if that might help me get a better understanding of Big Bang—which was a challenge.

Meanwhile, I ruminate about the book and find myself thinking of it more as a series of small bangs or whimpers than I do as one Big Bang. There are hundreds of small bangs, in other words, but they never seem to add up to the huge noise that the title words lead us to expect.

—David Willson

Highway Thirteen by Denis ‘Mac’ McDevitt

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Denis McDevitt dropped out of high school and that was the end of his formal education. He received his draft notice in February 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War, and went on to serve in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1968-69.

McDevitt’s autobiographical Highway Thirteen (Lulu.com, 184 pp., $14.95, paper) is written so far from the standard rules of fiction-writing that it has the feel of an experimental novel such as Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine. But this is not an experimental novel; it’s a book in which an inexperienced author is doing the best he can to produce a book about his time in an infantry unit in the Vietnam War.

Hat’s off to Mac McDevitt for how well he does with his skills and with his adventures in the war. Don’t expect fancy things such as apostrophes to demonstrate possession or not quite getting words like “trepidation” right. Still McDevitt does pretty well at telling an interesting story. He has good material, and his novel is better than many I have slogged through in the past ten years.

There’s a useful glossary at the back; the definitions are rough and ready, but adequate. For instance, McDevitt says “hooch” refers to a native hut, but defines it as any place you hung your hat.

Most of the usual stuff a reader encounters in an Vietnam War infantry novel can be found in these pages. Shit burning receives an especially good treatment and is deemed “the stinky science.” Half of a fifty-five gallon drum filled with shit and maggots is not what I had to deal with when I burned shit, but it gets the point across. Wyatt Earp gets a mention on the same page as shit burning is explained.

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The author in country

A riot at Long Binh Jail (LBJ) is discussed. as are Bob Hope, leeches, Miles Davis, Rome Plows, C-ration peaches and pound cake, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker, Eldridge Cleaver, REMFs, PTSD, Canned Heat (the rock group, not the fuel), Sharon Tate, the concept that war is money a-go-go, and “chairborne” rangers.

I enjoyed this short book and suspect that it wouldn’t be much better if it had received a rigorous editing.

But you need to read with a forgiving and uncritical eye to get full pleasure from this narrative.

—David Willson

Float by David Eyre

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David Eyre’s darkly comic 1990 Vietnam War novel, Float, has long been out of print. We just learned, however, that the book has been available in electronic form since 2017 (Shannon Eyre, 393 pp., $9.99, Kindle).

Float, Eyre’s first (and only) novel is very, very good. It’s a funny, well-crafted story centering on Navy Lt. J.G. John Paul Dubecheck, who finds himself lost in the moral and physical morass of the Vietnam War. Dubecheck is realistically portrayed as a cynical survivor who gets in over his head time after time in the war zone.

Among many other misadventures, he has not-satisfying sex with at least four women: a U.S. Marine nurse hooked on heroin; a stateside hippie during an LSD trip while on R&R; a South Korean singer; and a Vietnamese prostitute.

Eyre, who served as a Navy officer in the late sixties, pulls all this off splendidly—the characters, the physical places, and the dialogue. The plot is a tad thin at times, but the book is densely packed with weird, wired moments in the war.

—Marc Leepson

RVN by Tim Gingras

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Tim Gingras is a former U. S. Navy Corpsman who served on active duty in the 1970s.  In his novel, RVN (Outskirts Press, 156 pp., $28.95, hardcover; $14.95, paper; $8.99, Kindle) eighteen-year-old Charlie Kinane is drafted at the height of the Vietnam War. He avoids going into the Army by joining the Navy as a hospital corpsman. He chooses pharmacy tech training, thinking that would keep him out of blood-and-guts experiences.

Then Charlie goes to Vietnam and is send to the 3rd Marine Division at Khe Sanh, a base  infamous for being constantly under heavy attack. Charlie’s primary duty is to keep track of medical supplies, especially controlled medications used for the treatment of pain. When Charlie is sent as a replacement corpsman on an overnight search-and-destroy mission outside the wire, he confronts everything he had been working hard to avoid.

Charlie keeps close track of the days he spends in Vietnam. He had to put in a one-year tour of duty that it would end in August 1967, so if he survived, he would hold the military to “this one-year thing,” as he refers to it. (I believe that in the Marines the Vietnam War tour of duty was thirteen months.)

Charlie’s duties include dealing with malaria, trench foot, leaches, delousing, burns, nausea, and countless other medical things including suturing. He works with female personnel and feels so strongly about one nurse’s  bad qualities that he discusses fragging her. He ultimately decides that fragging is “basically murder,” which he was against personally.

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Tim Gingras

Movies were available for Marines stationed on base and they watched The Sand Pebbles, Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, The Dirty Dozen, and Charlie’s favorite, In Like Flint.

I recommend this small but interesting book to all who are curious about the life of a Navy Corpsman in the Vietnam War.

–David Willson