July, July

by Tim O’Brien

Ten college friends return to Darton Hall College in the Twin Cities for their 30th college reunion.

They graduated in 1969 when barriers were falling; men were landing on the moon; women were burning their bras; and the young felt powerful.

Now these classmates stand at the threshold of the millenium, tired, disappointed, dissatisfied and regretful.

For some, the reunion brings new beginnings and letting go of old resentments. For others, it’s a return to more of the same.

One lost a leg in Vietnam and then his wife to a Harley-riding stock trader. One was a conscientious objector who never forgave his girlfriend for not moving to Canada with him.

Spook Spinelli lives with two husbands in two households. One she’s legally married to; the other she’s all-but legally married to. Each man knows about the other and knows that acceptance is the only way they can each keep Spook in their lives. For Spook, there’s no such thing as “enough.” At the reunion, she’s willing to sleep with anyone — except overweight Merv, her best friend from college.

Merv is the most financially successful of his friends.  But he doesn’t feel successful. His failure to get Spook to go to bed with him is just one of several personal failures. He’s slowly killing himself with food, drink, depression and lethargy.

Two class members have died by 2000; one by murder, the other by accident. Another has become an international humanitarian and a third is the state’s lieutenant governor, who isn’t entirely satisfied with his destiny.

This novel is a series of Hemingway-esque snapshots of events at the reunion rather than a plotted story. Author Tim O’Brien has selected a fascinating period of time to set this story in. His characters are lively and active — there’s not a cliched or generic one in the bunch.

The Author: Tim O’Brien (1946 – )

Best known for his book about the Vietnam War, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED (1990), Tim O’Brien grew up in Worthington, MN, on Lake Okabena in western Minnesota. The area served as the setting for some of his stories, including ones in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED.

In 1968, O’Brien earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Macalester College, where he was also student body president. That year he was drafted in the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam, where he served from 1969 to 1970. The unit he served in was part of the 23rd Infantry Division (the Americal Division) that contained the unit that perpetrated the My Lai Massacre the year before he arrived in Vietnam.

After his military service, O’Brien went to graduate school at Harvard University. He then served an internship at the Washington Post and published his first book, IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE, BOX ME UP AND SHIP ME HOME in 1973. The New York Times named it an Outstanding Book of 1973.

His work often blurs fiction and reality. In talking about his work, O’Brien has discussed the differences between “story-truth,” the emotional feeling of an event, and “happening-truth,” the facts of the event. He suggests that the feeling created by fiction is sometimes truer than a reading of the facts.

He lives in central Texas and teaches full-time every other year at Texas State University-San Marcos. On alternate years, he teaches workshops to master of fine arts students in the creative writing program.

His work has won numerous awards: GOING AFTER CACCIATO won the 1979 National Book Award. IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS won the 1995 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction.

O’Brien won the $100,000 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award in 2013 and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation’s Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award in 2012.


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