cover image The Deuce

The Deuce

Robert Olen Butler / Author Simon & Schuster $18.45 (303p) ISB

Somewhere inside this terribly overwritten novel about a runaway Vietnamese-American adolescent is an affecting sketch struggling to breathe free. Tony Hatcher (born Vo Dihn Thanh) lives in New Jersey with his emotionally distant self-absorbed ex-GI father, and is torn between his rootless present and memories of a boyhood in Saigon where his mother, a prostitute, abandoned him. Running away from home at 16, Tony winds up in New York City, fending for himself in a nightmarish world of crime, drugs, whores and panhandlers. He becomes friends with an alcoholic Vietnam War vet, but a knife-wielding, smooth-talking hustler spells trouble. When Tony's father plasters Port Authority bus terminal with missing-person posters, we know some form of confrontation is in store, but the prolix first-person voice that Butler ( The Alleys of Eden ) assigns to narrator Tony fails to build momentum and never fully convinces. (Sept.)