July, July

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Overview

Tim O'Brien is widely acclaimed as our finest chronicler of the Vietnam War and its afermath. In his ambitious, compassionate, and terrifically compelling new novel, this American master returns to his signature themes -- passion, memory, and yearning -- in a brilliant ensemble piece. July, July tells the heart-rending and often hilarious story of a group of men and women who came into adulthood at a moment when American ideals and innocence began to fade. Their lives will ring familiar to anyone who has dreamed ...
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July, July: A Novel

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Overview

Tim O'Brien is widely acclaimed as our finest chronicler of the Vietnam War and its afermath. In his ambitious, compassionate, and terrifically compelling new novel, this American master returns to his signature themes -- passion, memory, and yearning -- in a brilliant ensemble piece. July, July tells the heart-rending and often hilarious story of a group of men and women who came into adulthood at a moment when American ideals and innocence began to fade. Their lives will ring familiar to anyone who has dreamed big dreams, suffered disappointment, and still struggled toward a happy ending.
At the thirtieth reunion of Minnesota's Darton Hall College class of 1969, ten old friends join their classmates for a July weekend of dancing, drinking, flirting, reminiscing, regretting. The three decades since their graduation have seen marriage and divorce, children and careers, hopes deferred and abandoned. Two best friends toast their ex-husbands with vodka and set out for a good time. A damaged war veteran opens his soul to a Republican trophy wife recovering from a radical mastectomy. An overweight mop manufacturer with a large yet failing heart reignites his passion for a hyperkinetic housewife. And whispering in the background is the elusive Johnny Ever, part cynical angel, part conscience, the cosmic soul of ages past and of ages future.
Winner of the National Book Award for his classic novel Going After Cacciato, Tim O'Brien once again strikes at the emotional nerve center of our lives. With humor and a sense of wistful hope, July, July speaks directly to our unique American character, and to our unique resilience.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In his National Book Award–winning 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

Stephanie Foote
If you believe that college was the best—or at least the most important—time of your life, this novel is for you. Set in 2000, the date of the thirty-year reunion of Darnton Hall College's class of 1969, the novel uses the promise of the late '60s to explain the sorrows of its middle-aged protagonists. Each chapter focuses on one of a dozen or so characters, showing us a pivotal decision, a road not taken, a promise broken or fulfilled. Following the intertwined lives of a large cast of characters as they negotiate the meaningless present and the golden past gives O'Brien room to develop a complex narrative, but at the end of the day, it's not easy to sympathize with (or care much about) these people. Virtually indistinguishable from one another in their resentments and regrets, they bear witness to the narcissism of the baby boomer generation and the emptiness of its version of success.
Publishers Weekly
Like The Big Chill, National Book Award winner O'Brien's latest novel is about a group of college students from the radical days of the late 1960s. Assembled years later, the friends and acquaintances go through the usual motions of reminiscing, regretting, lusting, laughing and crying. Unlike the gang from that 1983 movie, though, this group is not brought together to mourn the death of a mutual friend but rather a 30-year class reunion. Yet they're still mourning, lamenting their lost youth, vibrancy, ideals, looks and health. Among the ruins, however, they find old friends, common struggles and rekindled passions. Although this is more a group of interwoven short stories or character studies than a traditional novel, O'Brien (The Things They Carried) fully fleshes out each character with aplomb. Actor and experienced audiobook reader Sanders offers a smooth and knowing delivery. His cynical, dry, yet humorous tone perfectly matches O'Brien's prose. The surface of this comic tale seems jaded and despairing, but sympathy, camaraderie, solidarity and love run deeply throughout. Simultaneous release with the Houghton Mifflin hardcover (Forecasts, July 1). (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
A great novel about the '60s by one of Esquire's favorites. -- Esquire
Library Journal
The 30th reunion of Darton Hall College gives O'Brien the chance to play with a host of troubled characters. If you think you've seen this before, you're right: it was excerpted in The New Yorker and Esquire. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142003381
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 320
  • Age range: 18 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim O'Brien

Tim O’Brien received the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato . Among his other books are The Things They Carried, Pulitzer Finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century, and In the Lake of the Woods , winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize. He was awarded the Pritzker Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military writing in 2013.

Biography

Tim O'Brien has said it was cowardice -- not courage -- that led him, in the late 1960s, to defer his admittance into Harvard in favor of combat in Vietnam. The alternatives of a flight to Canada or a moral stand in a U.S. jail were too unpopular.

He has since explored the definitions of courage -- moral, physical, political -- in his fiction, a body of work that has, at least until recently, dealt almost exclusively with America's most unpopular war and its domestic consequences. His first book, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home looked at the war through a collection of war vignettes that he had written for newspapers in his home state of Minnesota, and his second book was a novel, Northern Lights, that he later decried as overly long and Hemingwayesque -- almost a parody of the writer's war stories.

His third book, Going After Cacciato in 1978 does not suffer such criticism from the author. Or, for that matter, from the critics. Grace Paley praised the novel -- which follows the journey of a soldier who goes AWOL from Vietnam and walks to Paris -- as "imaginative" in The New York Times. And the book became a breakthrough critical success for O'Brien, the start of a series that would give him the unofficial title as our pre-eminent Vietnam storyteller. Cacciato even won the prestigious National Book Award for fiction in 1979, beating out John Irving's The World According to Garp.

"Going After Cacciato taunts us with many faces and angles of vision," Catherine Calloway wrote in the 1990 book America Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War. "The protagonist Paul Berlin cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imagined in the war just as the reader cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined in the novel... Paul Berlin is forced, as is the reader, into an attempt to distinguish between illusion and reality and in doing so creates a continuous critical dialogue between himself and the world around him."

Born in Austin, Minn., to an insurance salesman and schoolteacher, O'Brien grew up as a voracious reader but didn't find the courage to write until his experiences in Vietnam. After the war, he studied at the Harvard University's School of Government and was a staff reporter at The Washington Post in the early 1970s. He writes from early in the morning until the evening and has a reputation for discarding long passages of writing because he finds the effort substandard. He also can do extensive revisions of his books between editions.

His follow-up to Cacciato, 1981's The Nuclear Age, had a draft dodger find his fortune in the uranium business though he is consistently plagued by dreams of nuclear annihilation. Critics labeled it a misstep. But his subsequent effort, The Things They Carried, a collection of short stories about Vietnam, reaffirmed his reputation as a Vietnam observer. "By moving beyond the horror of the fighting to examine with sensitivity and insight the nature of courage and fear, by questioning the role that imagination plays in helping to form our memories and our own versions of truth, he places The Things They Carried high up on the list of best fiction about any war," The New York Times said in March of 1990. And his next novel, In the Lake of the Woods, another Vietnam effort, won the top spot on Time's roster of fiction for 1994.

In Lake, Minnesota politician John Wade, whose career has suffered a major setback with the revelation of his participation in the notorious My Lai massacre from the Vietnam War, retreats to his cabin with wife Kathy, who later disappears. The Times Literary Supplement said it was perhaps his "bleakest novel yet" and that "the most chilling passages are not those which deal with guns and gore in Vietnam but those set in Minnesota many years later, revealing a people at ease but never at peace." Pico Lyer, writing in Time, said "O'Brien manages what he does best, which is to find the boy scout in the foot soldier, and the foot soldier in every reader."

O'Brien's more recent efforts -- his sexual comedy of manners Tomcat in Love and July, July, which centers on a high-school reunion of the Vietnam set -- have not received the high praise of his earlier efforts. But O'Brien has said he is not writing for the critics, noting that Moby Dick was loathed upon its release.

"I don't get too excited about bad reviews or good ones," he told Contemporary Literature in 1991. "I feel happy if they're good, feel sad if they're bad, but the feelings disappear pretty quickly, because ultimately I'm not writing for my contemporaries but for the ages, like every good writer should be. You're writing for history, in the hope that your book -- out of the thousands that are published each year -- might be the last to be read a hundred years from now and enjoyed."

Good To Know

O'Brien was stationed in the setting of the infamous My Lai massacre a year after it occurred.

His father wrote personal accounts of World War II for The New York Times.

O'Brien's book The Things They Carried was a contender as Washington D.C. looked in 2002 to find a book for its campaign to have the entire city simultaneously reading the same book.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Timothy O’Brien
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 1, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Austin, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Macalester College, 1968; Graduate study at Harvard University

Read an Excerpt

Class of '69

The reunion dance had started only an hour ago, but already a good many of
the dancers were tipsy, and most others were well along, and now the gossip was
flowing and confessions were under way and old flames were being extinguished
and rekindled under cardboard stars in the Darton Hall College gymnasium.

Amy Robinson was telling Jan Huebner, a former roommate, about the murder
last year of Karen Burns, another former roommate. It's such a Karen sort of
thing, Amy said. Getting killed like that. Nobody else. Only Karen.

Right, Jan said. She waited a moment. Move your tongue, sugar.
Details.

Amy made a weary, dispirited movement with her shoulders. Nothing new,
I'm afraid. Same old Karen story, naive as a valentine. Trust the world. Get
squished.

Poor girl, Jan said.

Poor woman, said Amy.

Jan winced and said, Woman, corpse, whatever. Still single, I suppose?
Karen?

Naturally.

And some guy — ?

Naturally.

God, Jan said.

Yeah, yeah, said Amy.

Earlier in the evening, they had liberated a bottle of Darton Hall vodka,
which was now almost gone, and both of them were feeling the sting of strong
spirits and misplaced sentiment. They were fifty-three years old. They were
drunk. They were divorced. Time and heartbreak had exacted a toll. Amy Robinson
still had her boyish figure, her button nose and freckles, but collegiate
perkiness had been replaced by something taut and haggard. Jan Huebner had never
been perky. She'd never been pretty, or cute, or even passable, and at the
moment her bleached hair and plucked eyebrows and Midnight Plum lipstick offered
only the most dubious correctives.

What I love about men, Jan was saying, is their basic overall
cockiness. That much I adore. Follow me?

I do, said Amy.

Take away that, what the heck have you got?

You've got zero.

Ha! said Jan.

Cheers, said Amy.

Pricks, said Jan.

They fell quiet then, sipping vodka, watching the class of '69 rediscover
itself on a polished gymnasium dance floor. Unofficially, this was a thirtieth
reunion — one year tardy due to someone's oversight, an irony that had been much
discussed over cocktails that evening, and much joked about, though not yet
entirely deciphered. Still, it made them feel special. And so, too, did the fact
that they were convening on a deserted campus, in the heart of summer, more than
a month after the standard graduation-day gatherings. The school had a forlorn,
haunted feel to it, many memories, many ghosts, which seemed appropriate.

Well, Jan Huebner finally said. Bad news, of course — Karen's dead. But
here's some good news. Gal never went through a divorce.

That's a fact, said Amy.

I mean, ouch.

Ouch is accurate, Amy said.

Jan nodded. Twenty-nine years, almost thirty, and guess what? That slick
ex-hubby of mine, Richard the Oily, he grins and waves at me and strolls out the
door. Doesn't walk, doesn't run. Strolls. Talk about murder. Am I wrong about
that?

You are not wrong, said Amy.

We're discussing the male gender, aren't we?

We are.

Well, there's your moral, Jan said. One way or the other, they'll kill
you dead. Every time, flowers and gravestones. No exceptions.

Stone dead, Amy said, and leaned back to scan the crowd of aging
dancers. Thirty-one years, she thought. A new world. After a time she sighed and
freshened their drinks and said, What say we get laid tonight?

Yes, ma'am, said Jan. By pricks.

For sure.

Big, dumb, bald ones.

Amy raised her glass. To Karen Burns.

To divorce, said Jan, and then she turned and waved at Marv Bertel, a
come-dance-with-us motion, but Marv shook his head, tapped his chest, and leaned
back heavily against the bar.

Marv was recovering from a dance with Spook Spinelli, wondering if his
heart could take another hit. He doubted it. He doubted, too, that he should
risk another bourbon, except the drink was already in his hand, cold as a
coffin, and might quiet the jump in his heart. Partly the problem was Spook
Spinelli: those daredevil eyes of hers, that candid, little-girl laugh. Over
half a lifetime, through two tepid marriages, Marv had been massaging the
fantasy that something might develop between them. Pitiful, he thought, yet even
now he couldn't stop hoping. All those years, all that wee-hour solitaire, and
he was still snagged up in Spook Spinelli. Also, of course, there was the issue
of a failing triple bypass, the butter in his arteries, the abundant flab at his
waist. All the same, Marv reasoned, this was a goddamn reunion, possibly his
last, so he knocked the drink back and asked the bartender for one more, on the
rocks, double trouble.

Across the gym, under a flashing blue spotlight, Spook Spinelli was
dancing with Billy McMann. They were hamming it up, making faces, being sexy for
each other, but Billy did not once take his eyes off Dorothy Stier, who stood
talking near the bandstand with Paulette Haslo. After three decades, Billy still
hated Dorothy. He also loved her. The love and the hate had hardened inside him,
one reinforcing the other like layers of brick and mortar. In a few minutes,
Billy decided, he would treat himself to another drink, or maybe three or four,
and then he would amble up to Dorothy and explain the love-hate dynamic to her
in all its historic detail.

Dorothy knew Billy was watching. She knew, too, that Billy still loved
her. Later, she told herself, there would be time to take him outside and admit
to the terrible mistake she had made in 1969. Not that it was a mistake, not in
the long run, because Dorothy had a sweet husband and two incredible kids and
memberships in a couple of smart-set country clubs. Still, if Billy needed a
lie, she saw no harm in offering one. Almost certainly she would kiss him.
Almost certainly she would cry a little. For now, though, Dorothy was busy
telling Paulette Haslo about her breast cancer, which thank God was in
remission, and how supportive her sweet husband and two incredible kids had
been.

It was July 7, 2000, a humid Friday evening.

The war was over, passions were moot, and the band played a slow,
hollowed-out version of an old Buffalo Springfield tune. For everyone, there was
a sense of nostalgia made fluid by present possibility.

So sad, so bizarre, Amy Robinson was saying, but so predictable, too.
The old Karenness, that's what killed her. She never stopped being Karen.

Who did it? said Jan Huebner.

Amy wagged her head. Nobody knows for sure. Some guy she had a crush on,
some creep, which is par for Karen's course. Never any luck.

Never, ever, Jan said. And the thing is, she could've been a knockout,
all the ingredients. That gorgeous red hair, tons and tons of it. I mean, she
was a knockout.

Weight problem, of course, said Amy.

So true, said Jan.

Plus her age. Face it, she was piling up the mileage like all of us. Amy
sighed. Total shame, isn't it? The golden generation. Such big dreams — kick
ass, never die — but somehow it all went poof. Hard thing to swallow, but
biology doesn't have politics. The old bod, you know? Just keeps doing its
silly, deadly, boring shit.

True again, said Jan, and blinked down at her hands. What happened to
us?

Got me, said Amy.

Maybe the Monkees.

Sorry?

Plain as day, Jan said. A whole generation kicks off with the Monkees,
how the heck could we expect things to work out? ‘I'm a believer, I couldn't
leave her' — I mean, yikes, talk about starting off on the wrong foot. So naive
I want to cry. Last train to Clarksville, babe, and we're all aboard.

Amy nodded. You're right, she said.

Of course I'm right, said Jan.

May I ask a question?

Ask.

Where's our vodka?

Similar conversations were occurring all across the darkened gym. Death,
marriage, children, divorce, betrayal, loss, grief, disease: these were among
the topics that generated a low, liquid hum beneath the surface of the music. At
a table near the bar, three classmates sat discussing Amy Robinson's recent good
fortune, how after years of horrid luck she had finally met a decent guy, a math
teacher, and how on her honeymoon the two of them had won a sweepstakes or a
bingo tournament or a state lottery, something of the sort, no one knew quite
what. In any case, Amy was now very well off, thank you, with a fat bank account
and a brand-new Mercedes and a swimming pool the size of Arkansas. Her marriage,
though, had failed. Barely two weeks, someone said, and someone else said,
Talk about irony. Poor Amy. Finally gets lucky, lands a guy, and then the guy
turns unlucky. Back to square one. Even her good luck goes rotten.

Thirty-one years ago, in the brutal spring of 1969, Amy Robinson and many
others had lived beyond themselves, elevated by the times. There was good and
evil. There was moral heat. But this was the year 2000, a new millennium,
congeniality in public places, hope gone stale, morons become millionaires, and
the gossip was about Ellie Abbott's depression, Dorothy Stier's breast cancer,
Spook Spinelli's successful double marriage and the fact that she seemed to be
going for a triple that evening with either Marv Bertel or Billy McMann.

The terrible thing, Jan Huebner was saying, is that Karen was obviously
the best of us. Huge heart. Full of delusions, I'll grant you, but the girl
never once gave up hope.

Which is what killed her, said Amy.

Sorry?

Hope. Lethal.

Jan thought about it for a while. She also thought about her ex-husband,
how he waved and strolled out the door. Maybe we should just stop hoping, she
said. Maybe that's the trick. Never hope.

You think so? said Amy.

Sort of, said Jan.

After some consideration Amy Robinson shrugged and said, Boy, let's hope
not, and the two of them laughed and moved toward the bar to check on Marv
Bertel's heart.

The music now was hard-core Stones translated for the times by clarinets.

Techs were tumbling. Portfolios were in trouble.

Karen Burns was murdered.

Hard to believe, classmates would say, about this, about that, about
belief itself. And as people conversed, shaking their heads, disbelieving, a
pair of slide projectors cast fuzzy old photographs against one of the gymnasium
walls: Amy Robinson as a pert, freckled, twenty-year-old rabble-rouser; Jan
Huebner dressed up as a clown; Karen Burns eyeing a newly hired professor of
sociology; David Todd looking trim and sheepish in his blue and gold baseball
uniform; Spook Spinelli posing topless for the Darton Hall yearbook; Dorothy
Stier in a pink prom gown, ill at ease, glaring at the camera; Billy McMann
clutching Dorothy's hand; Marla Dempsey chasing Paulette Haslo with a fire
extinguisher; Ellie Abbott and Marv Bertel and Harmon Osterberg playing
cantaloupe-soccer in a crowded noontime dining hall. According to a reunion
brochure, sixty-two percent of the class had settled in the Twin Cities area —
Amy Rob-inson and Jan Huebner lived seven blocks apart in the nearby suburb of
Eden Prairie. Forty-nine percent had paid at least one visit to divorce court.
Sixty-seven percent were married. Fifty-eight percent described themselves as
unlucky in love. Almost eighty percent had selected romance and/or spiritual
fulfillment as the governing principle of their lives. In the gymnasium that
evening, under cardboard stars, there were six attorneys, twelve teachers, five
physicians, one chemist, three accountants, nineteen entrepreneurs, fourteen
full-time mothers, one chief executive officer, one actor, one minister, one
Lutheran missionary, one retired librarian, one lieutenant governor. Billy
McMann owned a chain of hardware stores in Winnipeg. Amy Robinson practiced
criminal law. David Todd, who had lost a leg in 1969, and who was now divorced
from Marla Dempsey, ran a successful custom-made furniture business. Paulette
Haslo was a Presbyterian minister, although currently without a church, which
was still another topic of conversation. Hard to believe, isn't it? said a
former point guard for the Darton Hall women's basketball team, now a mother of
three. Little Miss Religion, our own Paulette, she got caught breaking into
this . . . I shouldn't say. Big scandal. God fired her.

Wow, that's horrible, said a former teammate, an accountant for
Honeywell. Maybe we should — you know — go say something.

About what?

I don't know what. Try to help.

The former point guard, now a mother of three, shook her head and said,
No way, I'm in heat, I deserve some fun, and then she moved off swiftly toward
the bar.

A solid one hundred percent of them, the brochure declared, had come to
the reunion ready to party.

It was a muggy evening, oppressively hot. In an open doorway at the rear
of the gymnasium, Ellie Abbott fanned herself with a fallen cardboard star,
sharing a cigarette with David Todd and Marla Dempsey. The three of them were
cordial enough, even laughing at times, but here too, as with Amy Robinson and
Jan Huebner, hope was a problem. Marla was hoping that David would stop staring
at her. Ellie was hoping that Marla would stop talking about their classmate
Harmon Osterberg, who had drowned last summer in the waters of northern
Minnesota. David Todd was hoping that Marla regretted leaving him in favor of a
glib young stockbroker with a wallet only slightly fatter than his head.

He was a dentist, Marla said. She looked at Ellie, then at David, then
down at her folded arms. Harmon, I mean. And a good dentist, too. Super gentle.
At least that's what people said. She stopped, looked away. Maybe you already
knew that.

I did, said Ellie.

Marla sighed. God, it makes me sick. Such a dear, dear guy, always so
happy, and now he's just — no offense — he's this dead dentist. I mean, if
Harmon could be here tonight, I bet anything he'd be telling dentist jokes.

And drowning jokes, said David.

Ellie said nothing. For eleven and a half months she had said nothing.

She made a vague flipping motion with her wrist, took a last drag on
David's cigarette, excused herself, slipped inside, sat alone on the bleachers
for a time, waited for the loons to leave her head, waited for Harmon to finish
drowning, and then went off to find her husband.

In the gymnasium's open doorway, David Todd and Marla Demp-sey watched
Ellie slide away into the crowd of dancers.

Take a guess what I'm thinking, David said.

Ellie and Harmon, said Marla. They came close a million times. Maybe
finally . . .

Like us?

No. Not like us.

A quiet came between them, which they recognized from their years of
marriage: power failure. They'd always wanted different things. It was no one's
fault. Even while they were together, Marla had made it clear that she could not
wholly commit, that their marriage was an experiment, that David's missing leg
sometimes gave her the creeps. She hated touching the wrinkled stump, hated
looking at it. And there was also the scary suspicion that this man could
sometimes read her mind, like a fortuneteller, as if some spy or peeping tom had
been slipping him all her secrets over the years.

Even now, as David smiled at her, Marla wondered what the smile concealed.
He was a good man, yes, but even his goodness frightened her.

So go ahead, David was saying. I'm ready.

Go ahead what?

Ask where I'm staying.

Marla frowned. I'll bite. Where are you staying?

On campus. Flarety Hall. We can be there in sixty seconds.

If we run?

Gimp, he said, and slapped a hand against his prosthesis. Take our
time, move slow, it'll be like —

Stop.

Right. Sorry. I'm stopped.

Marla studied him with flat, neutral eyes. Anyway, look at me. Eight
extra pounds. Not a clue where it came from.

You look exquisite, said David.

Sweet, sweet lie.

My pleasure. David took the cigarette from her lips and threw it to the
ground. Don't do that to yourself. Makes a girl infertile.

Marla glanced at him, surprised.

I hadn't noticed that you've stopped.

No. But I'm me, my love. You're you.

‘My love'?

Sorry again. Divorced, right?

Light me another one, David.

No can do. What about those unborn babies?

Pity, Marla said, but they'll have to live with it. Come on, fire me
up.

David tapped out a cigarette, slipped it between her lips, struck a match,
and watched her lean in toward the flame. Lovely woman, he thought. Steel eyes.
Silver-blond hair, cut short. Trim. No hips. No sign of any extra eight pounds.
They'd remained friends over the years, sharing lunches, sometimes sharing a
bed, and David found it impossible to believe that they would not somehow end up
living together and getting old together and finally occupying the same patch of
earth. Anything else seemed mad. Worse than mad. Plain evil.

Marla blew smoke into the July night.

Much better, she said.

Not for our babies.

David, please, just lay off the baby bit. I'm low on the estrogen. Empty
tanks. I'm old.

You're not old.

Oh, I am. Always was. She looked away, looked back at him, went up on
her toes to kiss his cheek. It's this reunion crap, David. Makes people mushy.

Mushy, mushy me, said David.

Absolutely. Mushy you.

I need to ask something.

Is it mushy?

It is, he said.

No, she said. Don't ask.

Marla folded her arms and stepped back.

She was fond of David, and wished things could be otherwise, but what he
wanted from her had never been a possibility. Ordinary love — what most people
thought of as love — meant little to her. All she'd ever wanted was to be alone.

Let's dance, she said. I'm not good at this.

At what?

This. Talking.

Fair enough. But if you don't talk, I don't dance.

The leg?

Not the leg, he said. I was just hoping . . . Forget it.

You could watch, couldn't you?

Sure, he said.

He followed Marla inside and stood watching as she danced with Dorothy
Stier and Spook Spinelli. It was true, he thought, that she'd put on some wear
and tear. The sockets of her eyes had yellowed, and her skin had a brittle,
crumbly texture that took him by surprise. She looked her age, which was fifty-
three. But even so. A stunning fifty-three. In point of fact, he decided, a
sublime and heartbreaking and drop-dead magnificent fifty-three. For all the
years, there was still the essential Marla glow, a magnetic field, whatever it
was that made Marla into Marla, and that made his own life worth the pain of
living it.

After a time Marv Bertel cut in and took Spook off into a corner, and a
moment later Dorothy Stier went off to make peace with Billy McMann, and then
Marla danced alone.

Well, David thought.

Dream girl.

He turned away.

The evening had been hard on him, because he wanted Marla so badly, and
because she'd lived inside him for so many years, through a whole war, then
through a nine-year marriage, and then for the decades afterward. To her great
credit, he real ized, Marla had never feigned passion, never promised any-
thing. David believed her when she said she cared for him. But he'd come to
despise the word care. He did not care for it. Nor did he care for the
terrible truth that Marla only cared for him.

After two drinks David left the gym. He made his way across campus to
Flarety Hall, took the elevator up to his room, removed his trousers and
prosthesis, popped a Demerol, popped a half sheet of acid, lay down on the tile
floor, and allowed the narcotics to carry him away to a shallow, fast-moving
river called the Song Tra Ky.

Ellie Abbott left not long afterward with her husband Mark and with the
sound of waterfowl in her head. Harmon would not quit drowning on her. She had
dared two affairs in her life, and the second had gone very, very badly, and for
almost a year now Harmon Osterberg had been drowning in her dreams. It was
something she could never talk about. Not with Mark, not with anyone. The affair
had developed by accident, a mild flirtation, never serious, but the
consequences were enough to make her believe in Satan. For the rest of her life
Ellie would be living with the terror of a ringing telephone, a midnight knock
at the door. Secrecy was squeezing the future out of her.

In the cab, as they returned to their hotel, her husband said, Was it
fun?

Fun? she said.

The reunion. Old friends. What else?

There was a vacuum, as if a hole had opened up between them, and for a few
seconds Ellie wondered if she might find the courage to fill it with the truth.

Instead, she said, Oh, fun.

Almost everyone else partied well past midnight. There were door prizes,
and later a limbo contest, and later still a talent show designed for laughs.
Marv Bertel was among those who stayed. Bad heart and all, he danced several
times with Spook Spinelli, who was already married, doubly, and who divided her
time between two adoring husbands and a now-and-then lover on the side. By one
in the morning Spook's head was on Marv's shoulder. I'm a lardass, he told
her, but I'd make a fantastic third husband. Hide me under your bed. Beds, I
mean. Plural.

Spook said, Nice dream, isn't it?

Just say maybe.

Maybe, she said.

Dorothy Stier stayed late too. She stood outside with Billy McMann, trying
to explain away her mistake, or what Billy called a mistake. She blamed it on
religion and politics and the vast differences between them in 1969. I was
Catholic, she reminded him. I was a Nixon chick. What else could I do?

They have churches in Winnipeg, Billy said. They have tea services.

At least dance with me.

No, thanks, he said.

Please?

Can't. Won't. Very sorry. He would not look at her. So where's Ron this
evening?

Stop it.

Let me guess, said Billy. Home with the kids?

Correct.

You bet correct. Home. Kids. Correct's the fucking word.

Inside, Marla Dempsey still danced alone, down inside herself.

Sixty seconds away, David Todd lay shot through both feet, dumb as dirt,
sky high, listening to the sound of everness cut through the tall, bloody grass
along a shallow river west of Chu Lai.

Harmon Osterberg was drowned.

Karen Burns was murdered.

In a downtown hotel room, Ellie Abbott lay under the sheets with her
husband Mark. At one point Ellie began to reach out to him. She almost said
something.

Just after 1:30 in the morning the band stopped playing. The lights came
up, people began drifting toward the door, but then someone found a radio and
turned up the volume and the party went on.

At the rear of the gym, six former football players ran passing plays.

The twin slide projectors pinned history to the wall. RFK bled from a hole
in his head. Ellie Abbott swam laps with Harmon Osterberg in the Darton Hall
pool, and Amy Robinson hoisted a candle for Martin Luther King, and a helicopter
rose from a steaming rice paddy west of Chu Lai, and David Todd bent down to
field a sharp grounder, and Spook Spinelli grinned her sexy young grin, and
Billy McMann dropped a fiery draft card from the third-floor balcony of the
student union, and the Chicago police hammered in the head of a young man in
whiskers, and Paulette Haslo led a pray-in for peace, and Apollo 11 lifted off
for the moon, and the President of the United States told heroic lies in the
glaring light of day. Out on the dance floor, Minnesota's lieutenant governor
and his ex-fiancée, now a Lutheran missionary, swayed slowly to fast music. A
chemist explored the expansive hips of a retired librarian. A prominent
physician and one of the full-time mothers, formerly a star point guard, made
their way toward the women's locker room. Unofficially, this was a thirtieth
reunion — officially a thirty-first — and for many members of the class of '69,
maybe for all of them, the world had whittled itself down to now or never.

Billy McMann and Dorothy Stier had gotten nowhere. They stood near the
bar, apportioning blame.

Paulette Haslo was on her hands and knees, drunk, peering up at the
cardboard stars. All I ever wanted, she was telling no one, was to be a good
minister. That's all. Nothing else.

The chemist kissed the weathered throat of his retired librarian.

Minnesota's lieutenant governor had vanished. So, too, had his ex-fiancée,
now a Lutheran missionary.

Spook Spinelli sat in Marv Bertel's lap. Marv was certain his time had
come. Spook was certain about nothing, least of all her own heart. After a while
she excused herself, got up, and went off to call her two husbands and a now-
and-then lover named Baldy Devlin.

At a back table, over the last of their vodka, Amy Robinson was confiding
in Jan Huebner about her disastrous honeymoon, explaining how packets of
hundred-dollar bills had ended up in her purse. Good luck, Amy said, always came
in streaks, and she was afraid she'd used up every last bit of hers on the
honeymoon. It sounds superstitious, she said, but I wonder if I've got any
left. Luck, I mean. For the real world.

Divorce sucks, Jan said.

Big-time, said Amy.

Jan looked around the gym. Maybe we'll strike gold. This whole place,
take a look around. Nobody left except a bunch of wretched old drunks like us.
People who need people.

I hate that song, said Amy.

The universe hates it, said Jan. Except for my ex-husband.

Screw the guy, said Amy.

All the guys, said Jan.

Cheers, Amy said.

Cheers, said Jan.

Amy finished off her drink, closed her eyes, blinked out a smile. Crazy,
crazy thing, isn't it?

Crazy what?

Oh, I don't know, just getting old, said Amy. You and me, our whole
dreamy generation. Used to be, we'd talk about the Geneva Accords, the Tonkin
Gulf Resolution. Now it's down to liposuction and ex-husbands. Can't trust
anybody over sixty. Amy shook her head. For a few seconds she tapped her empty
glass against the table. And you know the worst part? Here's the absolute worst
part. Our old-fogy parents — yours and mine, everybody's — they didn't know jack
about jack. Couldn't spell Hanoi if you spotted them the vowels. But one thing
they did know, they knew damn well where we'd end up. They knew where all the
roads go.

Which is where? Jan said.

Here.

Sorry?

Right here.

Jan sighed. True enough, she said. But look at it this way. Things
could be worse. We're not Karen Burns.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2012

    Great read

    This novel is a great look into the vietnam war from a whole new persective.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Ppl

    Anyone here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2009

    Excellent

    Great character development and a good read. Thoroughly enjoyable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2008

    Very funny and entertaining story

    I really like O'Brien's writing style. The characters are very carefully explained. It was really a very good novel to read.I would recomend this to anyone approach those big re-unions to lighten the mood.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2006

    Not a masterpeice but still enertaining

    I really enjoined this book. Each character was layered and the book really had a real texture to it. I didn't like the fact that all the characters were still the exact same after thirty years.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2006

    Great, Great

    I read an excerpt from 'The Things They Carried' in my english course. I loved it... and then read 'July, July.' I read this book expecting a novel set in the Vietnam period, but O'Brien suprised me with a modern day retelling... through fascinating characters at a college reunion. I read this book as i prepared to graduate high school and it made me realize the complexities that lie ahead and the weight of all of my current decisions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2004

    July, July

    Through a complex and unrelenting exploration, O'Brien writes a memorable tale about love, trauma, friendship, and storytelling. In form to not mourn the past but to celebrate the future, O'Brien reveals the truism that life isn't over until its over.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    Life in all it's beautiful and ugly lights.

    I loved this book. These characters are REAL. To me it is a look at what is grotesque and sad and illuminating in a life composed of real and imagined dramas. What makes Tim O'Brien such an amazing writer is how he captures what is so real, and so profound in life, in such a small capsule of pages. He is brilliant. He is insightful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003

    A Reader from Minneapolis

    I enjoyed the character study Tim O'Brien presented in 'July, July.' Although alot of the reveiwers felt his characters were shallow and self-absorbed, I feel this book is a good reflection of life. When attending college, people have so many dreams and plans, and often don't think about situations that may prohibit these plans - cancer, loss of a limb. I think he did a fine and truthful portrayal of 'LIFE.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2002

    Major disappointment by an excellent writer

    I am a big Tim O'Brian fan. "Going After Cacciato", "In The Lake Of The Woods", and "Tomcat In Love" were each very different, yet excellent in their own way. "July, July" is a disappointing soap opera. How could it be that after 31 years each of these characters would end up the same, an incredibly self-absorbed bore. Through their various levels of gray and decay, it seems that "scoring" is the only activity that can generate any enthusiasm. These folks should be bragging about their children and recalling with whimsy their crushes and causes of 30 years ago. Instead we are presented with an epidemic of arrested development. Might I suggest renting "The Big Chill" instead. It will take less time and you can get to see some wonderful performers in the early stages of their careers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2002

    ASTOUNDING INSIGHT AND UNFORGETTABLE POWER

    When Tim O'Brien postponed graduate work at Harvard to serve in Vietnam, surely, he had no idea that he would one day become America's preeminent chronicler of those war years and garner a National Book Award. His prose is both brilliant and courageous. With the funny and poignant "July, July" O'Brien returns to the era that so shapes his writing, but this time rather than focusing on the soldiers he spotlights those who were left behind. When asked about his emphasis on female characters in his latest work, the author replied, "....in part it was a technical challenge, to prove to myself that I could do it, that as a writer I could portray convincing, detailed, intelligent, compelling women. More important, it seemed to me that most of the fiction set in the watershed era of the late 1960s focuses on stories about men - the pressures of war, draft-dodging, and so on. But for every man who went to Vietnam, or for every man who went to Canada, there were countless sisters and girlfriends and wives and mothers, each of whom had her own fascinating story, her own tragedies and suffering, her own healing afterward....." With "July, July" we meet many of these women at the thirtieth reunion of Minnesota's Darton Hall College class of 1969. Ten old friends meet again for a weekend in July to reminisce, drink, and rue what might have been Much has happened in the past three decades; , careers have flourished and floundered, children have been born, and marriages made in heaven have ended. It seems fitting that Jan Huebner and Amy Robinson toast their exes with vodka and hope for better days. Dorothy Stier, a wealthy Reagan Republican is recovering from a radical mastectomy and her 30-year-old decision to let draft dodger Billy McMann wend his way to Winnipeg alone. Even with two husbands Spook Spinelli is still on the prowl and sets her failing sight on a tubby rich man with a weak heart. Other riveting characters charm and disarm, while Johnny Ever, perhaps an angel, always hovers. He is there to disturb consciences and remind, as O'Brien has said, "I'm not sure if Johnny is an angel or a devil or a voice of conscience or just a weird metaphysical middleman. But yes, Johnny is meant to lift the story out of time, to remind both the characters and the reader that human beings have gone through certain universal troubles and joys throughout history, and to remind us of those abiding mysteries and unknown that envelop all of human experience." Tim O'Brien has crafted an incandescent novel penned with astounding insight and unforgettable power.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2002

    A Quick Read

    There are no really likable characters here. All of them have major personal problems that resulted from choices they made. Most of them chose to be a victim. The book reminded me why I don't enjoy reunions. Nevertheless, O'Brien has a way with words and a keen insight into human character. I read the book in two nights. It's very entertaining. I think most 'Nam vets would like it. I did.

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    Posted December 20, 2009

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    Posted November 17, 2008

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    Posted August 4, 2011

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    Posted May 28, 2011

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    Posted September 21, 2009

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