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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In his National Book Awardwinning Going After Cacciato and his exquisite collection of linked stories, The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien proved to be one of the most eloquent, original chroniclers of the Vietnam War. In July, July he broadens his approach, dramatizing both the war itself and the larger social history of the generation that came of age in that turbulent era.
Set at a Minnesota college, the novel follows a group of 1969 graduates during their wild, weekend-long 30th reunion as they reveal their hopes, memories, failures, and aspirations. Highlights include a former baseball star who lost his leg on the banks of the Song Tra Ky river; a Presbyterian minister removed from her pulpit under scandalous circumstances; a militant idealist who burned his draft card and moved to Winnipeg; a "well married woman" who shares her life with two husbands and an occasional boyfriend; and an ailing, overweight broom-and-mop manufacturer who briefly impersonated a reclusive, Pynchon-like novelist named Thomas Pierce. In lesser hands, this approach could have resulted in a by-the-numbers rehash of The Big Chill. Instead, O'Brien's humor, empathy, and bone-deep understanding of these lost, deeply confused men and women light up the novel, revealing him to be a master storyteller at the absolute top of his form.
July, July is an essentially realistic novel interrupted occasionally by otherworldly flourishes: oracular voices that may or may not have psychological origins. These voices speak to various characters about their (usually) grim futures, granting them glimpses of "the appalling drift of things to come." The result of this unique commingling of the banal and the miraculous, the tragic and the trivial, is a deeply involving, strikingly original novel in a class by itself -- easily one of the literary high points of 2002. Bill Sheehan