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sister: "Cancer is just a word she has/ looked up in the dictionary or heard about/in school." His mother, seated on the couch, "does not hold her chest/or slump down in pain, at least not yet." From this room Friedman can "only hold their faces in my memory/a moment longer." The final lines of the poem and the book come back to his father, who remains out of reach: "My father/dozes on a long, hot night." Though the father-son relationship —or lack of relationship—dominates many of these poems, there is much more to found here. There are poems about learning to box, learning how to seU FuUer brushes, selling popsicles, working on loading docks in St. Louis, coming of age sexually. These poems act as counterpoint to a father-son relationship that could easily have consumed the book, as it does the poet in the poem "On the Riverfront in St. Louis": "Old clothes wash up./I taste the dust/and grit that was myfather/and spit him back into the water."(WB) July, July by Tim O'Brien Houghton MUflin, 2002, 322 pp., $26 TIm O'Brien writes best when he writes about the Vietnam War. His most successful works, including the National Book Award-winning Going After Cacciato and the collection The Things They Carried, with its frequently anthologized title story, describe the war so skülfully that they reinvigorate an aU-too-familiar setting. His more recent works have shifted in focus, away from the battlefield toward the soldier's postwar transition to peacetime. Again, it is a recognizable theme, but one he handles expertly in novels such as In the Lake ofthe Woods. (After a steady stream of critical and commercial successes, however, Tomcat in Love, his penultimate novel, was greeted with tepid reviews.) July, July foUows the pattern of his more recent works. WhUe the war appears sporadicaUy, it is a specter that hovers over aU the characters. July, July begins at a college reunion in the year 2000. It is the class of '69's thirty-one-year reunion (logistical problems made a thirtyyear reunion impossible), and we systematically examine the Uves of ten classmates, from college through middle age to the maudlin reunion. The years have not been kind to most of the alumni. HousewUe EUie Abbott seems to speak for all of them in ultimately believing that "more than anything . . . she was a mix of the many things she was not: not content, not hopeful, not fixed to any moral destiny, not the person she had imagined she might be back in 1969." And so they congregate on the dance floor and drink heavily and engage in the same casual and mindless sex that they enjoyed m 1969, seeking assurances that they are still, if not young, then not hopelessly old. There are, by the way, two empty chairs at the reunion, and the fallen classmates are the subject of much of the reminiscence. It isn't The Big Chill, exactly, but close. The book flits sequentially between the reunion and close-ups of each of the main characters. We begin with David Todd, second lieutenant , who hovers near death at the Song Tra Ky river, having been 178 · The Missouri Review ambushed by VC troops. It is 1969 all over again. In this sequence, we are introduced to one of the more compelling devices in the novel, a mystical quasi deity named Johnny Ever, who teUs David the future as we explore his past. The passage of time and its repercussions are central to many of the episodes in the novel, and Johnny Ever pays visits to many of the characters, in disguises as varied as a suburban next-door neighbor and a voyeuristic dwarf. Part of O'Brien's magic as a writer is his capacity to make war new again, but he has less success with the tired theme of a sad and jaded reunion, the what-might-have-beens, the should-haves. Ultimately, the sequential structure of the novel becomes oppressive as O'Brien seeks to create new bridges from the reunion to seminal moments in the characters' Uves. The final chapter...


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pp. 178-179
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