WE'RE NOT HERE by Tim Mahoney


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Who's not where? American troops in Vietnam, circa 1975. What's not here? The glimmers of storytelling talent that peeked out from Mahoney's first novel, Halloran's Worm War (1985), also about Vietnam. It's 1982 and S/Sgt. Bill Lemmen (Ret.) trudges through ""the dirtier streets of San Francisco"" passing out photographs of a woman. Why? Flashback to 1975, when Bill, one of the last Yanks in Vietnam, constructs dummy fortifications to trick the Viet Cong during their march to Saigon. It's a lazy life in the slow heat, drinking plenty of beer, chewing the fat with a Vietnamese sergeant, sleeping with ex-bargirl Hoa, whose dream is to marry Bill and spirit away to California. As the days float by, a few incidents break the monotony: a Congressman and his wife helicopter in for a look-see; Bill visits a nearby camp where he befriends a kid who steals his radio and demands cigarettes ("" 'Salem! Salem!' he shouted. . .""); Bill's commanding officer does a lousy if precognitive imitation of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now ("" 'Think of it,' the major shouted. . . 'You won't get to wash for days. You'll be tortured by insects, you'll suffer in unbearable heat, you'll face a ruthless enemy, but you won't give up because you. . .you're calvary!' ""). Sent on to Saigon, Bill reminisces about bargirls past, salivates over those present (""Their skin like Hershey bars. Their eyes like almonds. Their lips, cherries. Their tits, bouncing plums""), and yearns for Hoa. Back in the countryside, as the day of his leave-taking nears, he thinks that maybe he'll marry her after all; but before he knows it, he's aboard a Saigon-bound jeep, promising Hoa that he'll return. . . Scattered, depressing, and soggy with maudlinisms: maybe an accurate reflection of those final Vietnam days, but there's neither point nor pleasure to be gained by taking Mahoney's turgid tour.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Delta/Delacorte