The descendants of an Indiana family fight in America’s many wars in Stevens’ (The Time Traveler’s Fool, 2012) exuberant, generation-spanning novel.
It’s July 4, 1976, and contractor Larry Treegarden has been hired to move a statue for the nation’s bicentennial celebration in the fictional town of Terryville, Ind. To do so, Larry, a veteran of World War II, must rely on the help of his drug-addled employee, himself a veteran of Vietnam. This job ends in the novel’s comic and explosive climax, one of its many funny scenes. Meanwhile, Larry’s other son wants him to publish their ancestor’s Civil War journal. Larry refuses, saying, “This family tree never fought for fame or glory.” But when the son uncovers a family secret, Larry must deal with a surprise visitor on the nation’s birthday. A womanizer and the “town’s most functional alcoholic,” Larry has two reasons for drinking: his brother’s disappearance while flying over Japan at the tail end of World War II and a son’s death in Vietnam. While the novel revolves around Larry, it skips freely among characters and times. The most successful sections include a vivid account of surviving the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and a Dante-esque journey in the wreckage of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Less engaging are the lengthy excerpts from the Civil War journal that seem mostly tangential to the story. Readers may find some of the novel’s events unbelievable, but the scope of the action will likely compensate, and though a few scenes may seem flat, others make up for it with high energy. Stevens’ writing can be hard to follow, with long sentences and abrupt transitions, but it is often striking, as when he writes of an “icy plastic hotel room” and taking a “step farther down a mountain of accumulated decisions.”
A vibrant, ambitious novel about the effects of war on a small-town family.