Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Read more...
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Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam-war protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert s own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. Robert and Jimmy s father, a veteran of WWII, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father s bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-25
- Reviewer: Staff
Butler’s assured, elegant novel explores a family fractured by the Vietnam War as its members face the losses of age. In 1967, Robert Quinlan enlists, hoping to secure a noncombatant role in Vietnam, while his younger brother, Jimmy, cuts family ties after his father violently rebukes his antiwar stance. While dining out in Tallahassee, Fla., 47 years later, Robert—now 70 and a university professor—meets a mentally ill homeless man, also named Bob, whom he takes for a Vietnam veteran. He is wrong, but the encounter reawakens memories of the Tet Offensive, when a split-second decision burdened Robert with secrets and guilt. The day after the encounter, Robert’s father, William, shatters his hip, and Jimmy, a resident of Canada since his flight to avoid the draft, is told of William’s uncertain prognosis. As the brothers and those around them face the possibility of a reunion, they look at their relationships anew; meanwhile, an increasingly delusional Bob crosses paths with the family again. The novel has obvious links to Butler’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1992 collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, but its characters struggle to adapt to the dislocations caused not by war or geography but by time. Eddying fluidly through its half-century span, the book speaks eloquently of the way the past bleeds into the present, history reverberates through individual lives, and mortality challenges our perceptions of ourselves and others. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Associates. (Sept.)