cover image Exiles


Philip Caputo. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45038-2

Set in Connecticut, Australia and Vietnam, these three novellas by Caputo, author of the classic Vietnam memoir A Rumor of War, explore what it means to be an exile. Dante Panetta, a 24-year-old blue-collar worker in ""Standing In,"" meets wealthy, manipulative Greer Rhodes on a train. Struck by Dante's resemblance to her dead son, Greer invites him to move into her home in a posh Connecticut community. Then she remakes him in her son's image--until he has an epiphany about his working-class roots. The story is simplistic in its portrayal of noble poor folks and superficial snobs; still, its message about a young man waking up from his exile from his true self has the satisfying, sentimental impact of an old-fashioned Hollywood movie. When a mysterious castaway washes up on ""Paradise,"" a tiny island off the coast of Australia, American expatriate David MacKenzie is forced to confront his alcoholism, his lonely marriage and his general sense of despair and estrangement in a foreign culture. A guilt-ridden American soldier in Vietnam must lead a reluctant squad in stalking a tiger that has carried off their mess sergeant in ""In the Forest of the Laughing Elephant."" As a hill tribesman guides them deep into the jungle, the men's sense of displacement is increasingly magnified. In each of these narratives, Caputo builds a fish-out-of-water story on the foundation of some eternal contrast--wealth and poverty; ancient traditions and modern corruption; man and nature. In each case, it is beautifully rendered detail rather than any stylistic or thematic innovation that carries his message home. (June)