From the Publisher
"As good an introduction to Philip Caputo as one can find." - The New York Times Book Review
"Breathtaking... a tour de force of impassioned prose." - Baltimore Sun
"Caputo is a splendid muscular storyteller... Exiles is remarkable and often harrowing." - Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Extraordinary... a kaleidoscope made up of nothing but exiles." - The New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in Connecticut, Australia and Vietnam, these three novellas by Caputo, author of the classic Vietnam memoir "A Rumor of War", explore what it means to be an exile. Dante Panetta, a 24-year-old blue-collar worker in "Standing In," meets wealthy, manipulative Greer Rhodes on a train. Struck by Dante's resemblance to her dead son, Greer invites him to move into her home in a posh Connecticut community. Then she remakes him in her son's imageuntil he has an epiphany about his working-class roots. The story is simplistic in its portrayal of noble poor folks and superficial snobs; still, its message about a young man waking up from his exile from his true self has the satisfying, sentimental impact of an old-fashioned Hollywood movie. When a mysterious castaway washes up on "Paradise," a tiny island off the coast of Australia, American expatriate David MacKenzie is forced to confront his alcoholism, his lonely marriage and his general sense of despair and estrangement in a foreign culture. A guilt-ridden American soldier in Vietnam must lead a reluctant squad in stalking a tiger that has carried off their mess sergeant in "In the Forest of the Laughing Elephant." As a hill tribesman guides them deep into the jungle, the men's sense of displacement is increasingly magnified. In each of these narratives, Caputo builds a fish-out-of-water story on the foundation of some eternal contrast, wealth and poverty; ancient traditions and modern corruption; man and nature. In each case, it is beautifully rendered detail rather than any stylistic or thematic innovation that carries his message home.
Ever since his first book, the much-acclaimed "A Rumor of War" (LJ 5/15/77), a memoir of his Vietnam experience, Caputo has explored the dehumanizing and alienating impact of war. These three stories continue the trend, although the first, "Standing In," is only indirectly war-related. In it, a young barber grieving over his mother's death finds himself "adopted" by a wealthy couple whose real adopted son was killed in a supposed jet accident during the Persian Gulf crisis. In the process, he loses his sense of selfuntil each side is forced to confront the unpleasant truth. The second story is set in Vietnam and focuses on a sergeant whose fear of fear (in the form of a man-eating tiger) leads him down a path of no return. The third involves a Vietnam veteran haunted by ghosts real and imagined even as he flees to the Australian outback, then to a tiny island. In these stories, the sense of place and fragility of the human psyche are both powerfully evoked. Highly recommended. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Three impressively varied and dramatic novellas, the first collection of shorter fiction from the author of such novels as "Horn of Africa" (1980) and "Equation for Evil" (1996), as well as the acclaimed Vietnam memoir "A Rumor of War" (1977).
The first and longest story, "Standing In," traces the emotional course travelled by Dante Panetta, a young barber who, while returning by Amtrak to Connecticut for his mother's funeral, meets an older married coupleGreer and Julian Rhodesto whom he finds himself helplessly bound by an "incredible accident of genetics." The ways in which Dante's eerie physical resemblance to their dead son affects both him and them are explored with brisk economy and skillful pacing in a memorable depiction of identity crisis and class conflict. "Paradise" describes the volatile impact of a shipwreck survivor on the inhabitants of a small island off the Australian coast. Caputo renders the locals' speech patterns expertly and shifts viewpoints to dazzling effect, creating enormous tension as the disturbed islanders wonder whether the mysterious Anson Barlow is a drug runner, or murderer, or something altogether worse. There's also a splendid surprise ending, in a terrific piece of storytelling that Peter Matthiessen or Robert Stone might well envy. "In the Forest of the Laughing Elephant" records a "rescue mission" carried out in the jungles of Vietnam by American soldiers whose mess sergeant has been carried away by an enormous tiger. The mission's obsessed leader is determined to exert authority over every enemy, even one motivated by nothing more combative than natural appetite ("It had to be shown who ruled this jungle"). The story is a tour de force: an inventive and haunting parable about men out of their element in a strange and dangerous new land.
A possible homage to literary mentors (the novellas respectively recall "The Great Gatsby", "The Nigger of the `Narcissus," and "Heart of Darkness"), and the finest work of Caputo's careera quantum leap beyond his previous fiction.