Dragon House

John Shors, Author New American Library $15 (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-22785-0

Shors's third novel tells an absorbing story weakened by melodrama, sentimentality and exposition. After promising her dying father, a Vietnam War veteran, to take care of his shelter for street children in Ho Chi Minh City, American writer Iris agrees to take along her childhood friend Noah, now a depressed veteran who lost his leg in Iraq. In Vietnam, they find the shelter has drawn an appealing cast of Americans and Vietnamese, all seeking escape and salvation, including two children exploited by a brutal drug addict, and an impoverished old woman whose granddaughter is dying of cancer. Though interesting, most characters never overcome Shors's insistence on telling, rather than showing, their inner lives (""he hurt and hated so much""). Melodrama and mawkish foreshadowing (""I'm taking the risks... and everything's going to be just the way it was meant to be"") will prove familiar to anyone who's watched a TV movie. Though frustrating, this is the kind of novel (provocative, polarizing, exotic) that should stir book group discussion.