Tim O'Brien, Editor . Houghton Mifflin $26 (336p) ISBN 0-618-03969-4

After a comedic hiatus with 1998's Tomcat in Love, O'Brien expands on themes he explored in some of his best-known earlier novels: memory, hope, love, war. It's July 2000 and members of the Darton Hall College class of 1969 are gathered, one year behind schedule, for their 30th reunion. Focusing on sharply drawn characters and life's pivotal moments rather than on a strong linear plot, O'Brien follows the ensemble cast (which includes a Vietnam vet, a draft dodger, a minister, a bigamous housewife and a manufacturer of mops) for whom "the world had whittled itself down to now or never," as they drink, flirt and reminisce. Interspersed are tales of other Julys, when each character experienced something that changed him or her forever. Jump-cutting across decades, O'Brien reveals past loves and old betrayals that still haunt: Dorothy failed to follow Billy to Canada; Spook hammered out a "double marriage"; Ellie saw her lover drown; Paulette, in a moment of desperation, disgraced herself and ruined her career. Comedy and pathos define the reunion days, while the histories often devastate. Because they are such dramatic moments—a tryst that ends tragically, a near-death experience on the bank of a foreign river, the aftermath of a radical mastectomy—some of them feel contrived, almost hyperbolic. Still, this is a poignant and powerful page-turner, and a testament to a generation. National advertising; national author tour. (Oct. 1)

Forecast:O'Brien is poised to secure a sizable readership in his age bracket, and the excerpts in the New Yorker and Esquire won't hurt either, but O'Brien's younger fans—all those who discovered The Things They Carried when it was assigned to them in class—might be less intrigued by this "definitive novel" of the baby boom cohort.

Reviewed on: 07/01/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Genre: BEA Books
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