PRISONERS by Wayne Karlin


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Like earlier fiction from this ex-Marine and helicopter gunner (Us, 1993, etc.), a complex tale based heavily on Vietnam memories seen through a glass darkly, or pieced together like fragments of bone. In this case, where to begin? The first setting is a Chesapeake Bay hospital ER where obstetrics nurse Mary helps out caring for children who were shot up in a Hardee’s restaurant massacre—amid a bloodiness that reminds Mary of her husband Brian’s work with a medivac unit picking up wounded in Vietnam. The location then shifts to the nearby site of a Civil War Union prison camp, where Brian is busy sifting a mass grave for bones of the Confederate dead. At a costume reenactment by the Maryland Historical Society, we meet nightmare-ridden teenager Kiet, from Ruth’s House for Disturbed Adolescent Females, who calls herself VCWA, or —Viet Cong With an Attitude—; molested by widower Hiram Johns, Kiet runs off in search of her ghost-soul and her true father, who is black. Now looking for Kiet herself are white sheriff Alex Hallam and his family-obsessed distant cousin, the African-American deputy Russell Hallam. This social and professional crossover of the races, part of the “seepage of history,” can be noted also in the crimes of Union soldiers against the Confederates, in the aforementioned siege in the restaurant, in Brian’s Vietnam gunnery, in a hidden trench uncovered by his Labrador retriever, in a visit by an Israeli cousin who may have been killing Palestinians, and so on and on, in an extensive layering of crimes upon crimes over the course of decades. And, as always, the present has to pay a high cost for exhuming the past. A demanding, forbiddingly dense, often beautiful vision takes shape here, with pictures only half-glimpsed as the pages go by.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-880684-56-X
Page count: 170pp
Publisher: Curbstone Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998


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