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The adventures of a Vietnam vet who runs amok in New Jersey, exorcising his demons--a by-now familiar story told with charm and imagination by Ryan (Eating the Heart of the Enemy). The narrator goes by many names, including George Dickel (his favorite brand of whiskey), but his main moniker is Dr. Excitement, which is what he calls himself when he's about to make trouble, whether it's busting up a VFW bar or stealing the wife of a gangster. Dr. Excitement is a formidable foe, and his troubles all go back to his days in Vietnam (years before) when he was stationed in the Mekong Delta as a SEAL (an acronym standing for Sea, Air, Land guerrilla warfare--the Navy's version of the Green Berets). Dr. Excitement was an ""assassin/kidnapper"" with CIA ties, utterly ruthless in the performance of his duties; back in the States, the killing he did haunts him, and he leads a marginal existence, floating from one depressed New Jersey town to another (Montclair, Jersey City, Patterson, Passaic), occasionally working straight jobs, but mainly dealing dope and pulling petty scares to stay alive. He's an immensely sympathetic figure who's always getting in trouble, mainly because of his junkie-like need for the kind of adrenaline rush that kept him going in Nam. In Montclair, he makes love to the wife of a minor Mafiosi and has to beat off attack after attack of thugs; then he poses as a psychiatrist (Dr. George Dickel) in order to sleep with the wife of a local politician, who nearly kills him in revenge--until Dr. Excitement frightens him off by painting himself orange (""Agent Orange"") and creepy-crawling the man's home. Excitement finally ends up briefly institutionalized, but is released and finally finds the right woman, who helps him let go of at least a little bit of the war. An occasionally overlong picaresque that is really less about Vietnam--Ryan has based Excitement's war stories on the reminiscences of Mike Beamon, a real-life Navy SEAL, and they never fully come alive--than about making it in present-day New Jersey. As such, it's funny and always energetic.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Donald Fine