Saturday, June 23, 2007

July, July: A "Northern" book review

Tim O’Brien, July, July (New York: Penguin, 2002). 306 pages

Do you have a burning desire to attend class reunions? If yes, read this book! Do you still believe that those in the 60s had it all together? If yes, read this book! It’s July 2001 and the 1969 graduation class of Darton Hall College have come together for their 30th reunion. Do the math. Yeah, it’s been 31 years since they graduated. Someone screwed up. Actually, they’re all screwed up. During the two days of the reunion, in which way too much alcohol is consumed, we learn all about their past and what brought them to the present. Surprisingly, most all of them are financially well off. They’d be considered a success in the world’s eyes, despite their divorces and heartbreaks and screwed up lives. The reunion consists of receptions, banquets, dances and even a chapel service for those members of their class who lived “abridged lives.” (love that term).
The book primarily focuses on a group of students who once hung out but had lost contact over the years. There’s David, the guy who in July 1969 led a platoon in Vietnam. His unit is wiped out and he’s shot in both feet. He survives but loses a leg. When he gets back, Marla, his college girlfriend marries him. But he can’t get the war out of his head. They divorce, but meet back up at the reunion.

Then there’s Billy. He fled to Canada to avoid the war. Dorothy, his college girlfriend, was supposed to come with him, but she chickened out. She was a Catholic Nixon chic, who just couldn't do it. She goes on to marry a rich guy. The Canadian guy marries, but his wife is killed (sounds like she may have committed suicide by stepping in front of a bus). It was a sad marriage; she found she couldn’t compete with his love for his former girlfriend.

Then there’s Paulette, a Presbyterian minister who is screwed up and got booted from her pulpit because of an inappropriate affair (and it didn’t involve sex). O’Brien, in his discussing Paulette’s failures, shows that he doesn’t understand Presbyterian Church government, but that's okay. Paulette makes an interesting character in the book and she is one of the few who leaves the reunion healthier than when she came. She’s a fitness nut and has the best body of the women present. Paulette’s friend, Ellie, tells about her affair with Harmon, one of their classmates who had an "abridged life." Ellie and Harmon met at a lake in Northern Minnesota. He has heart problems; he goes swimming and dies. She decides to tell her husband at the reunion which results in his early departure.

Spooky is still a crazy and attractive 30 years later. She’s married to two men (by their consent) at the same time. Yet, there’s this old thing for Marv. The two of them have always flirted, but had never become a pair. Marv is a successful broom tycoon with a size 52 waist and is married to a woman who has blackmailed him (after he lied to her). You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to Marv and Spooky. There are a few other characters like the state Lt. Governor, who had spurred the love of his life because she wanted to be a Lutheran missionary. She became a missionary and he went into politics and they’re both receiving distinguished alumni awards.

This is my fourth O’Brien book. Reading it I was reminded why I didn't like reunions even though my class ain't nearly as screwed up as this one. O'Brien is an engaging writing and creates convincing characters, yet this book is the least favorite of the ones I’ve read of him. If you haven’t read O’Brien’s Vietnam short stories, The Things They Carried, I highly recommend it.

Right now Sage’s summer reading scorecard is tied, one to one. One Southern book (I reviewed it last week) and now one Yankee book. I got the feeling the Southern reading list will take the lead next week.

For more of Sage’s book review’s click here.

For Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books, click here.


  1. Suppose I should note that I'm about 8 days early with this book...

  2. Exactly why I've never been to one. I do maintain a class website, safer that way.

  3. This books sounds kinda good. I'll add it and the short story one on my Sage Book List.

    I have yet to go to high school reunion. There was a 10 year that I skipped so I'm hoping there will be a 20.

  4. I'm adding this book to my list, Sage :-) You make it sound interesting and varied...

    Michele sent me to say hi and long time no 'see'....

    We have never had a big 'class reunion' thing here in the UK, so it might be interesting to read about it....


  5. wow, how do you have time to read so much? I'm jealous!!

  6. This sounds like a book that would make me depressed.

  7. I went to my 10 year reunion, missed my 20 year reunion, and plan to miss my 30 year reunion . . .

  8. Pat, I wonder if anyone is keeping a website for my class?

    Murf, I thought you'd like it!

    CQ, as for you Brits not having the reunion thing, that's because ya'll are so darn practical!

    Peri, I read 3-5 books a month and generally listen to one a month on ipod (but I don't watch much TV)

    Tim, it was kinda depressing

    Diane, I haven't been to any college reunions. I went to my 10 year high school and that was enough, I've missed the 20 and 30 year ones. Someday I should blog about my one reunion (I should also note that my high school was large--750 in the graduating class)

  9. I love going to my reunions! I don't know about the finances of all the classmates, but one of them is a multi-millionaire, who has his house on the market for 75 million!

  10. Nice review, Sage. I noticed that you found my blog so I thought I pay you a return visit. I should think I'll be a more regular visitor now.

  11. People are fascinating. And a guy in my high school graduating class is now a young heart surgeon!

  12. Goodness what a review! You make it sound like a must read. My books to read list is longer than my arm. I never seem to get near the end of it because of all the great books that pop up.

    Here via Michele today.

  13. I'm writing a book kind of based on my perceived unpopularity in high school and was asked to help plan the next reunion

    I read a Pat Conroy book,Beach Music, that I actually didn't like. Usually love him and all Southern books

  14. Great review Sage. Sounds like a very entertaining book filled with colorful characters.

  15. Welcome to the dark side Sage. I should have stipulated that only non-fiction books apply so I can add to my list. I'm reading one of the better books I've read in a long time right now and I'm already itchin' to do another Yankee Review shortly.

    I skipped my 10 year review. Of course only having seven others in my graduating class may have had something to do with it. I always figured it took at least 30 years before you made something of yourself worth talking about to others.

  16. IT is always so good to read your reviews. I had almost given up on reviewing.

    I put up a list for book awards challenge on me reading room blog.

  17. Hi, me again...

    Have you read any Pete Hamill? I enjoyed his Snow in August set in NYC. It falls into the Damn Yankee Challenge rules. His A Drinking Life is non-fiction, too.