In Ithaca, New York, in 1982, Larry Markham awakes to discover his wife, Vicki, has taken their young son, Scott, and left him--not for the first time, possibly for the last. It is a deep blow to a life already in fragments: adead-end job delivering Wonder Bread; a strained relationship with his agingfather, a veteran of World War Two; and weekly visits to the VA hospital whereLarry, a former Army medic, leads a support group for disabled Vietnam vets.As he struggles to win Vicki back, Larry finds he is in danger of a far moreimminent sort: A disturbed member of the support group--a trained CIAassassin--has disappeared, and is stalking Larry and his family. His methodssend an unmistakable message: The game will end in death.At the same time, "The Names of the Dead" is a harrowing and heartfeltportrait of the Vietnam War and the men who fought it. The year is 1968, theplace A Shau valley, and Larry Markham--nineteen and green--must find a way tokeep his platoon alive. Here we see the stories Larry cannot bring himself totell--of friends who made the ultimate sacrifice in a war their countryscorned. "The Names of the Dead" is the story of a man trying to find his way backto himself--a story about storytelling and memories that refuse to fade. It isthe story of a man rediscovering the courage to love one woman, and, throughher, the world, his country, his family, and finally himself.
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Heart-rattling melodrama set against a thriller background hallmarks O'Nan's second novel?just as it did his first, Snow Angels, which won the 1993 Pirates Alley William Faulkner Prize for the Novel. By 1982, Larry Markham, an army medic in Vietnam, has been reduced to delivering Hostess snack cakes around Ithaca, N.Y. One morning, he awakens from familiar dreams of combat to find that his wife, Vicki, has left him again. Fed up with his attachment to the war and with his reluctance to share his wartime memories, she has fled with their learning-disabled young son, Scott. As Larry struggles to reunite his household, the failing health of his father becomes a problem, as do his growing feelings for Donna, the lonely neighbor who looks out for him in Vicki's absence. Worse, Larry also is being stalked by a dangerous hospital escapee, a trained assassin and fellow Vietnam vet with a mysterious score to settle. This suspense element, though ably presented, is the least satisfying facet of the novel: it's neither as poignant as Larry's complicated family drama nor as original (Peter Straub's Koko limned a similar scenario). Unusually powerful, however, are the extensive renderings of Larry's Vietnam memories, which come alive with gruesome violence, complex camaraderie, tension, humor, hope, superstition and terror. While not as seamless as O'Nan's first novel, this follow-up offers a confident, gripping narrative, as well as some of the most searing wartime storytelling in recent memory.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
In his second novel, the author of Snow Angels (1994) takes a now overworked subject--a Vietnam veteran's troubles--and comes up with a real winner of a book. It's 1982, and 16 years after coming back injured to upstate New York from his tour of duty as a medic in Vietnam, Larry Markham still cannot escape his memories of being in country. Larry is especially haunted by the belief that he somehow failed to keep the 13 men in his platoon alive. That sense of failure is exacerbated by his disintegrating marriage, guilt over his mentally disadvantaged son, a difficult relationship with his father, and a dead-end job delivering snack cakes. He's tired of being regarded as a stereotype, the Vietnam failure; his volunteer time spent counseling a group of disabled Vietnam veterans gives him some sense of peace, but when one member of the group, a trained CIA assassin, escapes from the hospital and appears to be stalking Larry and his family, Larry realizes he has to forgive himself for not dying in the war. O'Nan's language is powerfully restrained; his word pictures of the war and its effect on the men who fought there are fresh and vivid. He rightfully refuses to pander to our desire for easy answers and happy endings. The last scene, at the newly opened Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C., is presented as just the first step in what might, or might not, be Larry's eventual healing. Nancy Pearl
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