L.V. Sage’s massive novel, Red, White & Blues, Book Two (Self, 667 pp. $20,97, paper; $2.99, Kindle) 9s the second in a proposed trilogy. Book One was published in 2013. This one is self-contained and can be enjoyed thoroughly without having read the first volume.
Most of the story takes place in California during the 1980s. The characters are members of the Souls of Liberty motorcycle club, along with people who come into contact with them. In the first few chapters it seems like we are being introduced to a bazillion characters who’d be difficult to keep track of, but that aspect of the novel ends up being manageable. Those early chapters also fill in all the backstories we need to know.
The Souls of Liberty members believe in loyalty no matter what. Several are Vietnam War veterans and they seem to be especially respected for having taken part in the war. There’s a lot of PTSD in evidence. The veterans struggle to keep their “absolute worst secrets from Vietnam” from being revealed, Sage writes, while the war “still creeps in” every day. Every death they deal with in the eighties causes them to recall a similar one they encountered in the war in Vietnam.
They remember the sting of returning to “an ungrateful country,” having fought in a war that America lost, and they wish they could just forget about it. Their philosophy is: Some live and some die, but you just keep moving forward.
L.V. Sage can certainly write. She has created a fast-moving story with lots of sex and violence. There’s murder, suicide, infidelity, medical struggles, and divorce. The novel is basically a highly detailed soap-opera, but it works. There’s an especially well-written scene in which two veterans see the Platoon together in a theater when it first comes out.
Club members express a greater sense of loyalty to other members than they do to their wives or girlfriends. They do not tolerate their women talking disrespectfully to them in front of their brothers. One character notes that “women are the biggest threats to any club.” Most of the club members are fathers especially proud of having sons.
Club unity becomes threatened by the growing popularity of crack cocaine. The older members look at it as a dangerous drug. There are also concerns about rival clubs.
The club loves to throw big family outings, usually patriotic events. The Fourth of July celebration is the main favorite, even though the fireworks make some of the veterans uncomfortable. Halloween also is big, and the bikers rarely miss celebrating big wedding and birthday parties.
Underlying everything, though, is the war’s lasting effects. As one female character puts it: “War does terrible things to men. Every man I know that went is damaged now.” A main character bemoans the idea that his time in Vietnam left “a permanent scar on his soul.”
You probably won’t want to join this motorcycle club, but you’ll have a blast reading about all of their exploits.