Tomcat in Love

Tim O'Brien, Author Broadway Books $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0202-1
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. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-7679-0204-5
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