The Gambler’s Apprentice by H. Lee Barnes

H. Lee Barnes, who received the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award in 2013, is a novelist and short story writer who teaches English and creative writing at the College of Southern Nevada. His latest novel, The Gambler’s Apprentice (University of Nevada Press, 304 pp., $27.95), is a fast-paced, latter-day Western (it begins in 1917) tale starring Willie Bobbins, a Texas teen-aged outlaw and gambler whose life turns around as a result of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The book has received rave reviews. Here’s what one reviewer, Robert Lamb, wrote:

“Except once in a blue moon, when else do you find a story packed with action and adventure involving big-as-life characters in settings and situations ready made for the silver screen? Moreover, the author’s powers of description rival those of Cormac McCarthy in showing that the outback of the Tex-Mex border is no country for old men, and that even young ones age quickly there.

This novel has an appeal as wide as Texas and a historic sweep that is purely American. Willy can’t read or write, but he represents the pioneer stock who settled the West, fiercely independent, amazingly resourceful, but touchingly bewildered by developments beyond their rustic ken: world war, plague, drought, and a rapidly oncoming future in which they seem to have no place.”

 Barnes’s website is hleebarnes.net

Barnes in Vietnam, at left, in 1966

 

Minimal Damage by H. Lee Barnes

Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans, a collection of short fiction by H. Lee Barnes which we reviewed in the March/April 2008 printed edition of The VVA Veteran, is now out in paperback (University of Nevada Press, 200 pp., $19).

Here are excerpts from our review from 2008:

Back in 1995 I was blown away by Gunning for Ho, a collection of seven very, very good short stories, most of them set in Vietnam during the war, by H. Lee Barnes. All of them featured precisely drawn, realistic, yet off-kilter main characters—the hallmark of good short fiction. The plots took off in different directions in clever, sometimes surreal, ways. In one story, American troops and their NVA adversaries took a long time out from the war to play a baseball game.

Minimal Damage is another brilliant, beautifully rendered collection of short fiction. Each piece (there are six short stories and a terrific novella) centers on a veteran of an American war. This time Barnes—a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam and who teaches English and creative writing at the Community College of Southern Nevada—spreads the wealth. Three of the main characters, including the guy at the center of the gripping novella “Snake Boy,” are Vietnam War or era veterans; the others fought in Panama, the first Gulf War, Grenada, and Somalia.

H. Lee Barnes

Aside from a compelling main character, each of the stories has an intriguing plot that hums along rapidly. “Punishment,” which centers on a veteran of the fighting in Panama and the hours leading to his execution on death row, is an especially taut, tense tale.

“Private,” which takes place at basic training at Fort Polk, manages to shine fresh light on all the crazy-DI tales you’ve ever heard (and experienced). “Snake Boy” kept me on edge to the last sentence.

My highest compliment: I didn’t want any of the stories to end.

The author’s website is www.hleebarnes.net

—Marc Leepson