cover image The Names of the Dead

The Names of the Dead

Stewart O'Nan / Author Doubleday Books $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-

Heart-rattling melodrama set against a thriller background hallmarks O'Nan's second novel--just as it did his first, Snow Angels, which won the 1993 Pirates Alley William Faulkner Prize for the Novel. By 1982, Larry Markham, an army medic in Vietnam, has been reduced to delivering Hostess snack cakes around Ithaca, N.Y. One morning, he awakens from familiar dreams of combat to find that his wife, Vicki, has left him again. Fed up with his attachment to the war and with his reluctance to share his wartime memories, she has fled with their learning-disabled young son, Scott. As Larry struggles to reunite his household, the failing health of his father becomes a problem, as do his growing feelings for Donna, the lonely neighbor who looks out for him in Vicki's absence. Worse, Larry also is being stalked by a dangerous hospital escapee, a trained assassin and fellow Vietnam vet with a mysterious score to settle. This suspense element, though ably presented, is the least satisfying facet of the novel: it's neither as poignant as Larry's complicated family drama nor as original (Peter Straub's Koko limned a similar scenario). Unusually powerful, however, are the extensive renderings of Larry's Vietnam memories, which come alive with gruesome violence, complex camaraderie, tension, humor, hope, superstition and terror. While not as seamless as O'Nan's first novel, this follow-up offers a confident, gripping narrative, as well as some of the most searing wartime storytelling in recent memory. (Mar.)