LIVING DOGS AND DEAD LIONS by R. Lanny & Victor L. Hunter Hunter


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Here, a post-Vietnam novel about a veteran coming to terms with the war is the work of two brothers, one a physician who served in the war, and the other a theologian who spoke against it. The authors make an honest attempt at a novel of ideas and religion à la Graham Greene, before throwing the reader's hard-earned empathy away in a violent, cheap horror-movie ending in a Kansas farmhouse. War-veteran Joshua decides, after 12 years, to visit his best friend's widow and tell her, at last, about her husband's death in a remote outpost, Thang Duc. Claudia lives with her son, Todd, a high-school student, on the farm she runs in the prairie. A Catholic priest, Charlie Wilson, and a sociopathic combine-cutter in for the harvest, Rawlins, round out the cast. With the help of the priest Wilson, and to the increasing resentment of hired-hand Rawlins, Joshua and Claudia reach out to each other, exposing old wounds, daring to feel lost emotions. A small corner of Kansas comes to life in several strong scenes that convey the essence of the plains, the farm world, the town. There's even one genuine shock of a plottwist: Joshua reveals that he accidentally killed Claudia's husband, his best friend in Nam, during a night battle. But all too clumsily the authors interfere with this already laden drama: Rawlins and three rednecks descend on Claudia's farm, bearing cages of live rattlesnakes, which they loose on the beseiged inhabitants. Joshua's no Rambo--he can't pull the trigger when the enemy's in his sights--but after a long and nasty struggle, he saves the day. A strange combination of an earnest message novel and hyperkinetic horror story, and all the more disappointing for having made a serious effort to render its characters and themes honestly. For three-fourths of the way we care--then, suddenly, we are left wondering what (Spielberg? prime-time?) gremlin has taken control of our TV set.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking