The Summer of Love and the Vietnam War greatly affect several Pittsburgh-area baby boomers in this novel.
The lives of the young people of Milltowne, Pennsylvania, at the dawn of the 1960s are full of personal tussles, political and class affiliations, and one desperate desire for a nose job. Jenny Abruzzi is nicknamed “Honker,” but the family seeks approval from the parish priest before a nose job can be arranged. Art McGill, a young Richard Nixon fan, has his mind on the Pirates and their trip to the World Series. Due to some serendipitous seating arrangements, Jenny and her new nose are seated near McGill at a fateful World Series game that gives them a lasting connection. Redheaded Democrat Mike Mulligan has recently found himself, along with McGill, on the receiving end of “Whackin’ McCracken’s” paddle at school after the two were caught betting on the presidential election. As the years go by, college senior McGill watches from his fraternity house as President Nixon’s televised lottery for Vietnam War draft numbers is shown. Pre-emptively, McGill enlists, landing a stateside assignment as an MP. Jenny has come back into the picture, and she and McGill are together. His interest in the burgeoning anti-war movement lands him in trouble, and he is shipped off to Vietnam despite a contract assurance against it. With Mulligan in country as well, McGill is sent to the remote Dam Luc compound, where one year of warfare puts him and Mulligan in the greatest of peril. Morrison’s (The Energy Caper, 2008) new book deftly records the sights and sounds of ’60s and ’70s America and Vietnam through music, dialogue, and personal relationships that highlight the lofty aspirations, struggles, and upward mobility of the baby boomers. The sections in Vietnam, in particular, come alive with rich detail about the conflict and the sway and swagger of reluctant troops who rely on music, weed, and low-powered beer to get them through. This is a long book, and some parts of it meander too much, especially McGill’s postwar period in the early ’70s. But Morrison’s impressive amount of knowledge about the time period offers some fresh perspectives on these much-discussed years.
Part history lesson, part coming-of-age story, this Vietnam-era tale delivers the kind of stirring details that can only come from personal experience.