on October 9, 2002
Tim O'Brien has done it again! In July, July, O'Brien creates a beautiful range of voices and lives, trapped by their own passions, hopes and the delusions of a generation, whose youth has run itself, nearly, out of gas. At a high school reunion, we see O'Brien's characters dance under cardboard stars in an awkward celebration of times past. The reunion of old friends serves as a catalyst for reliving the year of their college graduation: 1969. The narrative fluxes between present time stories and the tales of old hopes, dreams, loves and lives of these ripened graduates. In the novel, O'Brien's characters (some of whom, like Spoke Spenelli, remain as sassy and sexy as ever, while others find themselves victims of divorce, broken hearts, or a lost leg to the Vietnam War) are as real as each of us, as they explore who they were and who they have become. In July, July the reader finds herself out on their dance floor, amongst the crowd, dancing along with nostalgia. By brilliantly weaving the experiences of these characters lives, O'Brien creates a chorus for a generation who drowned themselves in the sea of cul-de-sacs, housing developments, golf courses and other landmarks of suburban culture. There is no book that better exemplifies the dreams of a generation, so proud and young and hopeful, who lost its innocence to a time of war. This book has moments of pure hilarity and heart wrenching sadness. It is a reflection of another "coming of age," middle age, that leaves the reader walking away with her own reflections on who she is and who she thought she would become. O'Brien is masterful in his prose. In July, July the cast of characters develop a plotline that wraps each of their lives around your very own. An amazing feat. My highest recommendation.
on March 26, 2005
First, let me say I wanted to love this book. The first O'brien book I read was The Things They Carried, a masterpeice. I suggest to all who were turned off by July July to please read this before writing him off. He has enormous talent, but this book didn't show any of it. The characters are barely credible. The setting of the reunion seems as if the characters dropped into a twilight zone scenario: they can and do haunt the Darton Hall campus in the wee hours, no buildings are locked, no security guards are ushering them out of the door, as if the campus is a ghost town, a mere prop waitng empty for thirty years instead of a real place with a whole new set of students. The dialogue of most characters not only sounds the same, but has the same style in that many scenes end with a character emitting what is meant to be a clever quip. On a more positive note, the sub-tales are mostly quite good, such as David Todd's tale in 'nam (I loved Johnny Ever, the most interesting character in the book), the tale of the lover who drowns (reminded me of a story by Richard Ford), and most of all Marv's tale.
Tim, if you are reading this don't be discouraged. I know you have some better stuff in you. Maybe you got a little lazy or contrived on this one. Best of luck on your next effort.
on November 28, 2002
A personal note on why I found the book so disappointing... Because I found The Things They Carried and In The Lake of The Woods to be devastatingly good, I looked forward to OBrien's latest submission with great anticipation. While the premise of the book would seem to play into the author's power alley, and there are indeed characteristic fragments of telling insight, for the most part I think July July is trite, disconnected, and without interest. The characters are truly forgettable. Taken as a whole, this odd cast would indict their generation as a group of pathetic losers, and this is a hard pill to swallow. In The Things They Carried, Obrien's "scene to scene" psycho-ramblings are held together to great effect by the well understood context of Vietnam. In In The Lake of the Woods, Obrien skillfully weaves diverse story lines around a tightly knit plot. July July suffers mightily from the lack of common context and integrating plot. Instead, the book jumps back and forth from one strange person or story to another, and the result for me was simply confusion. I wasn't sure who was who, but once I figured out what everybody was up to, I didn't care. I lost interest quickly. Don't go there.
on May 5, 2003
Well, I know the NYT reviewed panned it and nobody is going to go around saying it's Tim O'Brien's best novel. I mean, after he wrote The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods, it must be tough for the poor guy to compete with himself.
But if he hadn't written those books, if this was the first thing he'd written, I'd have given it 5 stars.
July, July has a big cast of characters, a group of college graduates returning for their 30th reunion, and the characters intermix and mingle as people will during a reunion weekend, making it sometimes difficult to keep track of who's who.
Inserting pivotal tales from Julys past, O'Brien give us wonderful explorations of universal themes in this daring novel: hope, love, disappointment, despair, and of course the Vietnam War.
A couple of chapters from July, July appeared as separate short stories in The New Yorker, and they work well in that way, especially the bittersweet and tragically funny story of Dorothy confronting her husband's discomfort regarding her mastectomy by getting plastered and walking topless toward him down the driveway. The reaction of her elderly next-door neighbor is masterful. Utterly priceless.
The book is a testament to the entire generation of us who grew up in the long shadow of Vietnam.
on February 25, 2003
Tim O'Brien's "July July" is about how our dreams, hopes and memories are shattered once they take the inescapable road through reality, experience and just plain living.
It tells the story of the graduating class of 1969 of Darton Hall College in two time periods: both in 1969 and at their class reunion in 2000.
1969 was a year of discontent in America as the euphoria of "The Summer of Love, 1967" was fading and Vietnam was looming larger and larger in the country's collective mind. In just a couple of years we would also lose two of our pop icons: Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. So the graduates of 1969 were less inclined to look to the future with unguarded hope for they would be going into a slightly smudged and tainted world: desperately clutching onto their dreams and cautiously, even warily walking toward their adulthood.
Even though for the bulk of the novel, O'Brien adopts a very straightforward, almost reporter-like style of prose, when he writes of one character, Spook Spinelli, who has two husbands, (!) he opens up with admiration and a kind of wonder: "They were intelligent, open-minded children of the sixties. There was almost no contention. Initially, to be sure, Lincoln had articulated some displeasure at Spook's desire for a second husband, yet he adored her and realized that the alternative was to lose a wife he cared for. Just as important, and much to his credit, Lincoln understood that relationships require fine-tuning, that Spook loved him no less, and that he wasn't losing a wife but gaining an in-law."
Tim O'Brien has written a novel and created characters that personify the regret of and the yearning for a time when their most difficult choice was whether to wear the red or the green Izod shirt,the brown or black shoes or who to call for Pizza. Then Life happens to them.
I've heard a lot of great things about Tim O'Brien and read his stories in "The New Yorker," so I was pleased when my book club chose this novel. I have to try another of his books, however, because this can't be a good example of O'Brien's work. I found the premise of this book unrealistic and boring. A group of very different personalities is brought together at a 30th college reunion. They seem interested only in drinking a truly extraordinary amout of alcohol, ... putting long lost romances to bed (literally and figuratively!)and commiserating about their horrible lives. No one seems to have a spouse or kids they care about, fulfilling careers, or any interests whatsoever other than what happened 30 years before. I kept getting the characters confused, no doubt because I found it hard to care about any of them.
O'Brien is no doubt a fine writer--I read the chapter "Nogales" in the New Yorker several years ago and remember it vividly to this day. Same for "Too Skinny", the story of an obese man who sheds his weight and finds he can't live with the new person he has become. These chapters stand alone as riveting portraits of people whose lives have gone terribly wrong. But the "reunion" as a device to pull it together is forced, and the weight of so many messed up people in one place at one time is hard to take.
on June 8, 2003
Not one reviewer yet gave this book five stars, I am. That is not to suggest that it is a masterpiece or even O'Brien's best novel, rather, it is an excellent read, and to me, that is sufficient to regard it in high esteem.
As every generation ages, it faces the irony, bitterness and self doubt over life's decisions. Few of us are spared looking in the bathroom mirror, at age 50, and wondering how we got to this point in our life and how different it might have been had we made choices other than the ones we made. Yet, few of us articulate those thoughts to anyone other than that image in the mirror.
O'Brien's sharply drawn characters articulate that self doubt for us. If you have ever been to a class reunion, you will recognize the sentiment, desolation, guilt and perpetual hope that burns in all our hearts and in the souls of those we grew up with. Funny that the Baby Boomer Generation that now runs the world has created an age of irony for itself. O'Brien hits the bulls-eye.
on October 8, 2002
I loved the review from dannyj999, the 18-year-old, who suggested that 50-somethings might like this book more than he did. As an exact cohort of Tim O'Brien, I wondered myself as I read July, July, understanding every aspect of O'Brien's frame of reference, whether readers outside the Vietnam generation would find much of interest here. In the early going, the book filled me with desperation. Our generation suddenly seemed so old and irrelevant. Then again, what do you expect from a college reunion? But by the end O'Brien rescued several characters from the scrapheap, and left the reader -- this reader anyway -- with a needed sense of redemption. He's a master weaver by now, a terrific story-teller, full of dark humor.
I'm always curious about the place of the Vietnam War in O'Brien's novels. This one doesn't disappoint. As we stand on the brink of more warfare, July, July did give me a momentary chill as I pondered whether today's Cheneys and Powells were the McNamaras and Bundys of 1962.
Two thumbs up.
on June 23, 2004
It's interesting that the back cover of July, July, Tim O'Brien's latest novel, compares the author to Don DeLillo. Perceptively, and quite unintentionally, the comparison highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of July, July, exposing a deeply flawed book that still manages to engage the reader. While DeLillo's novels are either tightly constructed studies of one or a few characters or sprawling works like Underworld, with dozens of characters over 800 pages, O'Brien seems to be trying to cram the latter into the pages of the former. Too many characters in too little lead time lead to a book that is disappointing, and yet worth reading.
The novel tells the story of a group of former students returning for their 30th anniversary at a small, fictional college in Minnesota. As one might expect, the characters are all wounded in some way-whether by rage, war, disease, or relationships, and these wounds are explored in context of the reunion and through periodic flashbacks. The characters are mostly quite interesting-the problem is that the novel, at a lean 300 pages, doesn't offer enough time to explore any of them in depth. As a result, the novel leaves strong impressions, but nothing more, about most of the characters, and I was left hoping for more information, and more resolution.
O'Brien also makes some poor choices about how he allocates his pages. Some characters are not terribly interesting, and we keep returning to them. Each time the novel returned to the two women sitting in their dorm room talking, I wanted to flip ahead, to the more interesting characters in conflict. Some of these vignettes are fascinating, with deep characters that you want to return to. Billy's struggle to overcome his unhappiness after the fleeing the country for Canada during the Vietnam War, for example, is particularly compelling, as is David's battle to regain his wife and deal with his demons from the war. When the story is focused on these characters, the writing is tight and engaging, and you get the strong impression that O'Brien is more interested in their stories as well.
Criticisms aside, July, July does offer the usual O'Brien strengths-tight storytelling about characters that are complex and yet credible. July, July might be worth reading for lines like Right now, for instance, she did not say, "Billy, I love you more than anything," because she did not love him more than anything. She loved cashmere." alone. Despite missteps in this work, O'Brien can still often say more in a passage than most authors can in a chapter.
on November 5, 2002
This is definitely not up to the standards of O'Brien's best work. I'm surprised nobody else has mentioned what to me were the obvious flaws: the forced, fake dialogue, and the disappointing use of cliches.
Nobody noticed that every single character omitted pronouns and prepositions while speaking? i.e., "Not born yesterday" instead of "I wasn't born yesterday," or "Should have been fun. Wasn't." Most people don't talk like that, and expecting us to believe every single character in this novel does is a stretch. There is hardly a single passage of dialogue that isn't written in this manner, making me think it must be some kind of nod on O'Brien's part to postmodernist irony or something. If so, it's beneath him. He shouldn't pander his writing to the flavor-of-the-month fans of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer.
As to the cliches: over and over they appear, crashingly simple ones you wouldn't want to see in the fiction of a novice, such as "ritzy country club" (which he uses at least three times) and "fancy suit." Ritzy, fancy? O'Brien can, and in the past, always did, do better.
The characters are well-developed, and some of their stories are much more interesting that the shenanigans at the reunion (especially Marv's fantasy/lie about being a famous reclusive author, which was well-done - other than the fact it was too obviously supposed to be Thomas Pynchon). But they aren't terribly likeable characters, are they? Whine, whine, whine.
I wish I had more positive things to say, as O'Brien is one of my favorite living authors. I thank God I didn't splash out the (Money)cover price, and was fortunate instead to receive the book as a gift. It's worth a read, but instantly forgettable. I can only hope this doesn't signal a trend in O'Brien's career.