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The Phony Marine: A Novel Paperback – April 8, 2008

3.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The uncharacteristically impulsive online purchase of a Silver Star medal once belonging to a marine lieutenant sets Hugo Marder, a successful middle-aged suit salesman at an upmarket Washington, D.C., store, on the path to his 15 minutes of fame in PBS's News Hour anchor Lehrer's 16th novel. Once Marder starts wearing the medal's accompanying lapel button in public, he receives deferential treatment from everybody he meets, spurring him to forge an alternate persona: he shaves his head, starts working out, trains himself to think the way he thinks a marine would think and, most importantly, learns to cuss. Things get hairy when he runs into his ex-wife, Emily, while on jury duty. She's on to his deception, but his heroic actions during a courthouse shooting propel him to instant fame. Ever ambitious, she attaches her wagon to his rising star and floats the idea of getting married again. As Hugo accumulates an ever larger entourage of admirers and his public stock rises, his conscience gets louder and louder. Lehrer, himself a former marine, does an admirable job of creating a pathetic yet sympathetic character in Hugo, though the supporting cast is emotionally anemic and exists solely to push Hugo along on his journey of self-discovery and self-deception. Lehrer's fans will appreciate his latest, but it may be too simple a yarn to attract new readers. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In his spare time, Lehrer, PBS newsman and moderator extraordinaire, manages to be quite the prolific novelist. In his sixteenth novel, he levels his ever-composed gaze at the character^B and value of heroism. A men's clothing salesman, pudgy and relatively friendless, Hugo Marder is your garden-variety nobody, neither sympathetic nor entirely disagreeable. Until, that is, he buys a Vietnam-era Silver Star medal on eBay and decides to become a former marine. Sidestepping the tricky reality that he never was one, Hugo loses inches off his waistline, learns to comport himself with rigid assuredness, and gets comfortable dropping the "F-word" despite his innate discretion. He finds automatic admiration among strangers and relations alike but also lands himself in thorny spots where his status as war hero demands that he step up and display what mettle he may or may not possess. After saving a judge from a gun-toting assailant, an actual former marine, Hugo finds the spotlight all of a sudden quite bright, and he must reckon with what he has made himself into without the bothersome rigors of actual merit. Lehrer, whose prose is measured and unremarkable, considers the notion of heroism as a matter of circumstance (right time, right place) and whether it can be worn as a costume and hopefully thus learned to affect a dramatic transformation regardless of one's past failings or present deceptions. Ian Chipman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812975510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812975512
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,919,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Erik Olson VINE VOICE on November 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I don't usually buy hardcover fiction unless it's deeply discounted. However, the title and cover of this book locked onto me like a ticked-off drill instructor. After leafing through it, I immediately purchased "The Phony Marine." I'm glad I did.

Hugo Marder failed to realize either of his two big dreams. He never joined the Marines, and he didn't become a cartoonist. Instead of serving in Vietnam when he was eligible, he took advantage of a college deferment to avoid the draft. And cartooning gave way to a predictable lifestyle selling men's clothing in Washington DC. Now, Hugo's a fiftysomething divorced guy whose average existence is wearing him down. However, things change after an impulse online purchase of a Silver Star award for combat valor.

When the medal arrives, Hugo decides to wear its lapel pin while strolling around the city. Usually he blends right in. But the pin makes him stand out. People acknowledge Hugo with respectful nods and outright praise. He even scores a complimentary meal at a local restaurant. These positive reactions galvanize Hugo to take on the persona of the Marine he's always longed to be. He shaves his head, gets fit with a Marine Corps workout, learns the lingo, and constructs a fictitious military back-story. But how long can Hugo's deception go undiscovered - especially when he becomes a real hero?

"The Phony Marine" is a lean and mean read. I wish it were longer because I wanted to see Hugo go even deeper with some of the philosophical issues behind his charade. However, I was still caught up with Hugo's quest for a meaningful life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Phony Marine" is about a man who buys a Silver Star medal on ebay, and when it come he begins wearing the lapel pin.

The setting is a large urban area, and the man works selling men's suits and accessories. The men's clothing descriptions are very detailed and given too much weight in this novel, at least for me. I found the tiny details of fashion and clothing took away from the development of what could have been a better story.

Perhaps in some quarters there are people who notice lapel pins, but I would not be one of them. I am not sure how many people would be able to identify the various lapel pins, but I am sure some people do do that.

The status given to the phony marine, as he wears the lapel pin, makes him reconsider how he lives his life, and what is important. He tries to make himself into a "former Marine" but in the end the charade comes to a climax. (Try to avoid spoiler here).

I found the characters rather superficial. The setting was detailed about the clothing people wore, but otherwise lacked character development. None of the characters seemed realistic to me at all. Dialogue was only adequate, and seemed forced at times.

the premise, that when someone is thought to be a certain way, they will then act in that way, was promising. And the topic of people lying about military service is important. "The Phony Marine" just did not take those interesting concepts and develop them very well.

"The Phony Marine" only gets a C- from me.
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Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to like this book. But it was short, more like a long short story than a novel, there wasn't nearly the "exploring hero worship" that was hinted at in the summary paragraph, and the ending was unbelievable. Wouldn't happen in DC! That having been said, I was curious to see what would happen next and I did finish the book. I was just disappointed that there wasn't more to it, it could have gone much deeper.
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Format: Hardcover
Lehrer's 16th book is a masterful tale that touches upon a number of psychological traumas that swim quietly below the shark infested waters of our psyche. Who are we and why are we the people that we seem to be or perhaps really are? Confused? That's my point and this book will leave you wanting more. Can a change in wardrobe and a haircut really turn you into a hero? Is behavior fixed at birth or is it simply situational? I am of the opinion that we all contain a little bit of Hugo in our souls. For some it finds expression in sports; for others music; for others fashion. Few act out fantasies on such a grand scale and with such discipline that they become the "it" that they pursue.

Lehrer, a former Marine, understands his character, (perhaps honed by years of interviewing individuals who are in a constant state of transition), and the grand tableau, Washington, DC, upon which he sets his story. Hugo's wife Emily is a particularly compelling character resembling say about 10 million people that I have met while residing in Washington keenly aware of her need to live vicariously through the Congressman, Senator, or cabinet member that she serves all the while having totally lost her direction in life. In a manner the author suggests that perhaps Hugo Marder is less of a loser than one would want to believe. At least he figured out what it is he should have been and in the grand scheme of things self-actualization before death is a victory.

Hugo Marder (perhaps Hugo Marder = You go Murder) steals a dead man's glory. A crime? Not sure you decide. But my guess is Second Lt. Ronald Derby Cunningham would have been proud in an odd way to help save another life. Inspiration comes from many areas and in a world that has become increasingly reliant on technology, it was only a matter of time before you could buy it on EBay. Semper Fi.

G.Gregory Boyd

CPL USMC

BLT 1/3

Weapons Plt. 0331
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