THE NAMES OF RIVERS
Horrifying secrets hold a dysfunctional family together in Buckman's intensely written second novel, set in the small Midwest town where Bruno Konick, a guilt-ridden World War II veteran, is struggling to make sense of the choices that have essentially destroyed his two sons and now threaten to ruin his grandson. Bruno's son Bruce, battling the external fury of combat and the internal storm of his lust for another soldier, exploded a grenade in his foxhole in Vietnam, maiming himself. Now a hopeless drunk, he roams the town, buying beer with money stolen from his father. Bruno's other son, Len, also a Vietnam vet, shoots heroin, visits prostitutes and fights the memory of a childhood sexual assault by his brother. Len is glad that Bruce was disfigured in the war: he sees it as a sort of divine retribution, but he can neither understand why his brother can never seek his forgiveness, nor why his father refuses to face what happened. Bruno chooses to ignore the pain and suffering around him, closing off his small, tortured life until he must confront Bruce's grisly death and the prospect of his grandson, Luke, joining the marines to relive the imagined glory days of his elders. Buckman (Water in Darkness) displays a remarkably exacting touch with his lead characters and supporting cast, guiding the reader through a tangle of misery and chaos with his surefooted storytelling skills. He scores with a bounty of themes touching fathers and sons, dark family secrets, revenge and redemption, tying it all up in a stunning but believable conclusion. (June)
Forecast:Buckman is carving a niche for himself as an unblinking observer of the horrors of war, especially Vietnam. His second novel deserves to be widely reviewed, and if it is, the coverage should raise his profile.