This is history at its best: the riveting, realistic story of courageous sailors forgotten by their country.
During an exercise in the South China Sea on June 3, 1969, the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans was split in half after colliding with an Australian aircraft carrier. Seventy-four men perished. Although the ship was actively engaged in the Vietnam War, the names of these men have never been placed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In her first book, seasoned journalist Esola brings the events and people involved vividly to life. She begins with a double-barreled prologue: first, a powerful description of the memorial wall, ending with Ann Armstrong Dailey’s realization that her brother Alan’s name is not on it. “It was like he was dead all over again,” theirsister said. Next, a gripping account of the ship’s final moments puts readers right in the middle of the action: “Everything was going, rolling, topsy turvy. And fast.” What follows is a comprehensive yet uncannily personal history of this arcane footnote to the Vietnam War. Esola inhabits the minds and hearts of all players, from sailors to admirals to Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Many men, she discovers, joined the Navy (some at the behest of their parents) to avoid being drafted into the Army. She moves easily from their personal stories to politics to the reasons WWII vintage ships like the Evans—a “floating paint bucket”—were still in service. The story proceeds from the men’s enlistments and the ship’s role in Vietnam through to the accident and its aftermath. Later, Esola’s own growing involvement forces her to abandon journalistic detachment and join the effort to have these men recognized. Replete with black-and-whitepictures, endnotes and incredibly detailed research, this book is both comprehensive history and a beautifully written human tale that reads like a novel: “Eunice Sage wore a short-sleeved black suit and matching gloves; a gold rose pinned to the center of her blouse glistened in the sun.” It should appeal not only to readers of military history, but to anyone who enjoys a well-told, fascinating tale.
An intriguing, well-written and poignant work that transcends its historical genre.
Ghosts, monsters and trials at sea complicate romances in these energetic, atmospheric stories.
British Fantasy Society August Derleth Award–winner Brenchley provides deft sketches in a range of styles and settings—from age-of-sail adventure to modern urban realism, always with splashes of the supernatural and the macabre. Certain characters, themes and plot devices resonate throughout the collection. Several stories, for example, concern psychologically fraught vigils for dying men, held by friends and lovers, who experience spectral presences as subtle emanations of regret and spent passions. More rambunctious are a series of maritime yarns about a transhistorical figure named Sailor Martin, who plies the oceans from the 18th century, when he braves pirates, serial killers and sea creatures—including a bracing whale hunt worthy of Moby-Dick—to the present, when he copes with the inexplicable fritzing-out of radios and global positioning systems. In most of the stories, there’s also an amorous relationship involving an older, experienced, authoritative man who shepherds a slender, coltish youth—or, in one case,an entire floating brothel of such—through manly undertakings in and out of the sack. The erotic elements are sometimes hackneyed, as in a take on Dracula,in which the goth cheesiness culminates in pale boys sucking away at a man who seems less than horrified at their attentions. More convincing are quieter evocations of mature love, as when a man tends to his dying lover while fending off the mopey ghost of his uncle. Brenchley’s horror is most effective when it’s understated, a matter of half-seen apparitions and anxious disorientation; these build spookily to a shocking climax in a bravura tale of a man haunted by the ghost of a missing girl. Not every story is a masterpiece, but the author’s vigorous prose and well-paced storytelling will keep readers turning pages as his twisty characters get inside their heads.
A fine collection that imbues fantasy, action and horror with real literary depth.
This collection of short stories cleverly exploits the idea of descansos, those impromptu roadside shrines that commemorate loss, calling to mind both those who have left and those who are left.
Lyons’ stories are bound together by the idea that people should leave something behind in their lives. Something should honor them, whether it is a literal marker, as in “The Tallest Totem Pole in the World,” or a figurative one, as in “Security Risk.” In “Aaron’s Auto Salvage and Restoration,” Preacher Aaron, dismissed by his congregation, winds up running a junkyard in Arkansas and erecting, over the years, a great cross decorated with hubcaps, mementos of wrecks on the highway. Then, in “Arnold’s Café,” there’s the memorial to a homeless fellow who was happy to share his roadkill cuisine with hungry strangers. In “Day of the Dead,” a Border Patrol agent helps a mojado (someone who has entered the country illegally) erect a small descanso along an Arizona highway to honor his family who perished trying to cross the border; the agent then escorts him back to Mexico without the bother of paperwork.Blue-J, an orderly who catheterizes patients in a no-hope care facility, introduces some tough patients, including two who make a failed but heroic escape in their wheelchairs. (You will cheer.) More than one of these stories deals with the aftermath of war, of how it damages people. Elsewhere, in “Colors,” a wife leaves a descanso of wrecked whirligigs after she escapes her abusive husband—so Lyons stretches the idea a bit but in a good direction. A gifted storyteller, Lyons has a wonderful ear for dialect, effortlessly going beyond mimicry and on special display with Blue-J as well as Nunzio in “Holy Roller.” In “Afterword: Seeds,” Lyons explains what occasioned each story; in his case, the “write what you know” cliché worked wonders.
An engrossing collection giving ordinary people their due.