In a morality play for our times, Reilly (Value-Added Selling, 4th Ed., 2018) offers a novel about a very real battle for a Vietnam veteran’s soul.
Timothy O’Rourke is a mensch but a mess. While he was serving as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he was wounded both in body (a permanently injured leg) and in soul (post-traumatic stress disorder). He’s a full-time student now, working two part-time jobs, driving a beater of a car, and trying to support his widowed mother. He does have a best friend, Scoot, whose life he saved during the war; a solid girlfriend, Cheryl; and a mysterious friend called Hoffen (whose name is also the German verb “to hope”). The latter shows up at the Christmas-tree place owned by the despicable Dez and Edna Schoen, where Timothy works; later, he seems to show up whenever he’s needed and then move on. The Schoens initially seem like garden-variety cynics, but in one riveting exchange between them and Hoffen, Reilly lets their masks slip, and readers almost get a whiff of sulfur as supernatural elements emerge in the story. Timothy is fighting the outer circumstances of his life and his own inner demons, such as flashback nightmares, guilt, low self-esteem, and an ongoing temptation to drop out of school to make some decent money. This is a tale of good versus evil and hope versus despair, with Timothy’s soul hanging in the balance. Reilly does a good job of keeping the protagonist’s troubles coming (it’s always one step forward and two steps back for him), and Scoot, Cheryl, and the members of Timothy’s family are all well-drawn. That said, the author, who also has a career as a successful motivational speaker, lays the homilies on a bit thick at times, and the ending feels a bit too pat. Still, the climactic exchange between Hoffen and the Schoens is a grabber, as readers will realize with a shock exactly what’s been building under the story’s mundane surface.
A jolt of magic realism enlivens this message-heavy work.