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Mahoney's first and formulaic novel dramatizes the few months, a dozen years ago, when Tom Hollaran's life turned around. Tom supposedly tells his own story, but about the only thing he initiates is popping a beer can. He does a lot of that. It all happens in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near Newark Airport and the Bayonne refineries. A few memories of Vietnam are spliced into Tom's current events, including the ""Dear John"" letter he got from his wife Sandra, for whom (as best one can figure out) he was neither hunky nor spunky enough. Back in civvies at his old job of selling for Jersey Sheet and Tube, Tom flops, looks hippyish, gets demoted. He and Sandra divorce. To untangle his raw nerves, Tom sees two psychiatrists--one, an old woman named Rinehart and the other a middle-aged man named Pyle--who offer seemingly contradictory treatments. Drafted into the war, Tom feels he was shafted. Home again, he withdraws from everyone, including his straight, middle-class father and his straight, middle-class bosses, except high-school dropout and Vietnam vet Ed Sadowski and Leo, proprietor of the local bar where Eddie and Tom get smashed every Sunday morning. Hollaran behaves like a very bad boy. He moves in with Ed and tries to make him a gourmet, but he trashes his ex-wife's cabin, insults his bosses, runs from everything he can, lets Ed take off in a home-built helicopter that crashes. Ed might have drowned, but Tom saves him. And with that he turns around, accepts the dirty trick Carmine, a co-worker, pulled on him to get him fired, accepts the kindess and the love offered by a new friend, nurse Annie, and even arranges a demonstration luncheon at Leo's new restaurant, where he will be chef. If you can believe for 222 pages that the world was out to get Tom Hollaran (""When you come back from over there, I tell Annie, you feel used. The ultimate sucker. Why? Because you believed and risked your life and were a fool, for nothing, for a lie, for a sales pitch. When you realize that, you start to see it all around you, the lying, the using, the manipulation. And all the manipulators, the managers and insurance men and so forth, well, your first urge is to do anything to get back at them"")--if you can believe that that really is the legacy of the Vietnam War and not a romantic disillusionment characteristic of American fiction and social commentary from Anne Bradstreet and Herman Melville to Sinclair Lewis and Lewis Mumford, this old-fashioned morality play about a nice, weak kid saved by understanding and love may seem the chronicle of a hero.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1985
Publisher: Delacorte