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I mention the foregoing because Alon Shalev's "Unwanted Heroes" wants very much to be a part of this growing library. It is a strangely refracted effort, however. It concerns not a war vet from a contemporary conflict, Iraq or Afghanistan, but the Vietnam War, an Asian American named Mr. Tzu. It is narrated not by the war survivor himself but by a Brit named Will Taylor recently arrived in San Francisco and working as a barista at Mr. Tzu's café. The story begins with the latter's unexplained disappearance. The cops repeatedly come to question Will. We suspect murder mystery, until Mr. Tzu subsequently reappears, suffering from PTSD and hallucinating demons. The story concludes with him perched on the Golden Gate Bridge about to jump to his death when Will brandishes his just-published novel (of the same title), telling Tzu's story and redeeming him and supposedly releasing him of his curse.
A side plot - oddly taking up the bulk of the narrative and without any clear relationship to the Mr. Tzu plot - involves Will's romance with a sexy psychology grad student named Jane. They are introduced to her very rich parents. Extended dialogues meander over the finer points of wine tasting, punctuated by stock sex scenes replete with black lace and feline come-ons ("'Mon cheri.' Jane looks resplendent in her black Gucci sunglasses and black sundress....The tip of her tongue moves across her top lip. Though seductive, this is apparently part of her thinking process."), yet which delicately shy away from any explicit raunchiness - this is after all supposed to be a serious book on a pressing issue of our time, not erotica. Still, these scenes are curiously slack and gratuitous, after the bleeding earnestness infusing the Mr. Tzu plot.
So richly, relentlessly clichéd is the style, one wonders whether this was deliberate and parody was the intent (but a parody of what? the crafted novel's impending takeover by the prefabricated novel or Gnovel, as I suppose future Google-generated novels will be called?). In the evening when the café becomes a wine bar, "couples huddle in the corners wondering over a deep-red Merlot if the person facing them might just be the one. Life is a Cabernet, my friend, and a soul mate is waiting to be found." Yes, it all hangs together in a touching sort of way. With a few more novels under his belt for practice, the author might just begin to know what to do, but in the meantime we must wade through such passages as this: "His face is serious. Focused. A single bead of sweat runs down the left side of his forehead. 'We are Asian, but we are also American, and we have paid dearly for our membership. Just like the blacks, the poor, the Latinos that sign up today. We're crazy and homeless, but we're still goddamn heroes and they need to respect us.'"
~ Kymberlie Ingalls, WriterOfTheStorm.com
Well done, Alon!