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Tomcat in Love Paperback – September 1, 1999

3.6 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To date, Tim O'Brien's novels have all shared common traits: his heroes hail from the Midwest, usually Minnesota; Vietnam figures prominently; and the stories he tells, though invested with mordant wit, are usually pretty grim. So an O'Brien fan coming to Tomcat in Love on the heels of his earlier novels can be forgiven for occasionally checking the name on the cover (and the photo on the dust jacket) just to be sure this is, indeed, the same Tim O'Brien who wrote Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and In the Lake of the Woods.

In Tomcat in Love O'Brien introduces us to a very different hero: "In summary, then, my circumstances were these. Something over forty-nine years of age. Recently divorced. Pursued. Prone to late-night weeping. Betrayed not once but threefold: by the girl of my dreams, by her Pilate of a brother, and by a Tampa real-estate tycoon whose name I have vowed never again to utter." Thomas H. Chippering, professor of linguistics, war hero, and sex magnet--in his own mind, at least, has recently lost his childhood sweetheart and wife of 20 years to another man, the Tampa magnate, and Lorna Sue's desertion has clearly unhinged him. He has taken to flying down to Tampa from Minnesota on weekends to spy on his ex-wife and plot revenge against her, the tycoon, and Lorna Sue's brother, Herbie, whom he blames for destroying his marriage.

Thomas, Lorna Sue, and Herbie go back a long way together, bound equally by ties of love, guilt, and suspicion. Dating from the afternoon young Herbie nailed an even younger Lorna Sue's hand to a makeshift cross, Thomas has occupied a kind of emotional no man's land between the two: "In my bleakest moods, when black gets blackest, I think of it as a high perversion: Herbie coveted his own sister. Which is a fact. The stone truth. He was in love with her. More generously, I will sometimes concede that it was not sexual love, or not entirely, and that Herbie was driven by the obsessions of a penitent, a torturer turned savior. Partly, too, I am quite certain that Herbie secretly associated me with his own guilt. I was present at the beginning. My backyard, my plywood, my green paint."

Chippering takes his revenge to hilarious lengths, starting with a purple leather bra and panties stuffed beneath the seat of the tycoon's car and escalating from there. But even as he attempts to wreak havoc in his ex-wife's life, he succeeds in laying ruin to his own. His self-proclaimed irresistibility to women gets him in hot water with both his female students and his administration; his obsession with Lorna Sue threatens his budding romance with Mrs. Robert Kooshof, a woman who loves him as his wife never did--and, oh yes, there's that little matter of the squad of Green Berets he crossed many years before in Vietnam who may or may not be hunting him down.

Once you get over the shock of this new, funny Tim O'Brien, traces of the writer you thought you knew begin to surface. Chippering might be a pompous, overbearing windbag, but you can't trust him any more than you did any of O'Brien's other earthier, equally unreliable narrators. In one breath, he tells us, "I must in good conscience point out that women find me attractive beyond words. And who on earth could blame them?" In the next he describes himself as resembling "a clean-shaven version of our sixteenth president." Half the fun of reading Tomcat in Love is trying to sort out just how much of what Thomas H. Chippering tells us is true. Stellar writing, a brilliant cast of characters, and a sly, surprising story that breaks your heart one minute and tickles your funny bone the next all make Tim O'Brien's first foray into the comic novel a resounding success. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

All of O'Brien's previous six novels, except perhaps The Nuclear Age, have a Vietnam War experience at their core. Men (and women) at war?and warring with war's aftermath?are themes that have sustained O'Brien's gifted narrative rushes and his beautiful prose, garnering him high praise, including a National Book Award (for Going After Cacciato). After the mixed reception of In the Lake of the Woods, O'Brien said he would stop writing fiction for a while. His return here will be welcomed by his many fans, but he is not in top form. The "Tomcat" of the title is one Thomas Chippering, a 6'6" professor of linguistics whose wife has left him for "a tycoon in Tampa." Chippering narrates his woes, his scheme for revenge, the background to what he insists is his deep love for the departed Lorna Sue, all the while pursuing nubile coeds and the wife of a convicted tax felon. Although the book is being positioned as a comedy, Chippering is a most obnoxious companion, so terribly self-deluded, self-absorbed and self-satisfied, so pedantic and boorish, so convinced of his own charms that the unfolding drama of his pursuit of revenge becomes discomfiting. We want to root for his ex-wife, but through the Chippering "song of myself" we don't hear her, or know her. The Vietnam experience here, what there is of it, is ludicrously, and even disrespectfully, invoked by Chippering, who will remind those who attempt to resist his advances that he is a war hero. Although O'Brien is on interesting ground laying out Chippering's childhood crush on Lorna Sue in 1950s Minnesota, the book careens toward an unconvincing portrait of madness that is irritatingly flippant and shrill. BOMC and QPB alternates. Agent, Lynn Nesbit; editor, John Sterling.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767902041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767902045
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #408,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Wellen on January 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm enormous fan of Tim O'Brien, but to be honest, I wasn't sure of what to make of this book when it came out in hardcover. Seemed wacky, I thought. Instead, I recently picked it in paperback, and just read. I was in store for an extraordinary journey.
You have never met anyone in literature like Tom Chippering. You can't help but pull for the guy. The story is engrossing, hilarious, and often quite moving. Love, revenge, memory, friendships, new beginnings, letting go, devastation. Even if you are not much interested in the English language, you will never look at it the same way again.
I don't want to say much more about the plot, but I will say that it is constantly riveting. At the end, I cried. I'm not sure why...perhaps, sadness or happiness or emotional exhaustion...perhaps, as Tom would say, I'll never know.
I do know you should order and read this book immediately. O'Brien only enhances his status as my favorite living american writer. There is no equal.
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By A Customer on October 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Tim O'Brien is, without a doubt, America's premier chronicler of the Vietnam War. Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried have become classics of that era and even In The Lake of the Woods deals largely with repercussions of the war's aftermath. Tomcat in Love, however, bears no resemblance to any of O'Brien's previous works and it is, amazingly, far more inventive, original and creative.
Tomcat in Love is the darkly comic story of Minnesota resident, Thomas Chippering, a pompous, middle-aged Professor of Linguistics who has deluded himself into thinking he's irresistible to women...all of them. As Chippering, himself, says, "My celebrated biweekly seminars...are almost always booked to the limit with attentive, worshipful, ardent young lollipops eager to widen their horizons." Not since Nabokov created Humbert Humbert, has there been a more thoroughly unlikable and self-deceiving central character or one whom we so much love to hate.
Chippering is definitely a man in love with words. "Words," he says, "have genuine substance, mass and weight and specific gravity." In fact, it is words and his knowledge of them, that places Chippering far above the ordinary man and woman. For, although Chippering flirts outrageously with every woman he meets, they all rebuff him, a problem Chippering falsely attributes to their far inferior linguistic skills. It's not that he's unattractive, he thinks, women have simply failed to appreciate him. The sad truth is, Chippering has been betrayed by the very words he loves so much. He does possess the skill to manipulate words, but at the cost of being able to feel even one honest emotion, about himself or others.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tim O'Brien has been a favorite of mine for nearly 25 years. His books are always deep and insightful, but they reached new levels of somberness with "The Lake of the Woods". "Tomcat In Love" is a delightfully unexpected left turn and reveals a surprisingly sharp comic talent.
I usually find it difficult to enjoy a novel with a protagonist I can't admire. But Thomas Chippering is so delighfully self delusional that you can't help but giggle as he digs himself in deeper with every scheme he contrives. And yet amazingly you find yourself rooting for this buffoon as reaches new depths of social ineptitude. Other reviewers mention that Chippering is an unreliable narrator, but it is important to realize that he actually believes all the lies he is telling. Half the fun of reading this comic novel is reading between the lines to distinguish where what is really happening diverges from what Chippering is telling you.
This is a funny, funny book. Even so, it confronts the reader with many serious issues, particularly the objectification of women. There's plenty to think about while you are laughing at the characters. That's one reason this book stays with you much longer than most comic novels.
I gave a copy of this novel to my father, and after he finished it he sent it along to my brother. Tim O'Brien is exactly a generation between me and my father, and while there's plenty we can't see eye to eye on, we both found this novel extremely entertaining.
Tim O'Brien is a treasure. Read this book!
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Format: Paperback
I love Tim O'Brien. No one tells a story like him. The way he creates and develops characters, the way he moves plot along, the way he unravels and reravels a story is incredible. His deescription of human emotion could not be more accurate. His laugh out loud means of desribing the tangible and intangible are unrivalled in contemporary literature. AND, his writing is not pretentious. I had a hard time with this book. I love reading O'Brien's prose - the way he almost seems to be talking to you over a couple of beers. I couldn't stand Thomas Chippering! He was very much like John Irving's "Garp". Most certainly NOT someone I would waste my time trying to be friends with! BUT...he is real. Thomas Chippering is a real and believable person. His thought processes are very similar to ones many readers have had, although in my case, about different subject matter. I am not obsessed with the female of the species, nor am I as self-absorbed or obsessed with nostalgia as Chippering. However, the excuses he uses to explain how he got to be a self-absorbed nostalgic womanizer and why he HAS to be this way all makes perfect sense. The manner in which he comes to these conclusions is a manner any person could apply to interpret his or her own lifestyle and mannerisms. I don't know how many friends I would tell to read this, but if you want to understand how similar you are to the neighbor or co-worker that you hate, read it.
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