by Larry Heinemann
Although readers of Heinemann's first two books (the Vietnam novels Close Quarters and Paco's Story , which won the 1987 National Book Award for Fiction) may be surprised by the radical change of subject matter and mood in the author's new work, they will recognize continuity in his prose: here, the straightforward, spoken-language-style narrative voice tells the story of Maximilian Nutmeg, a small-time con artist who one day does an honest thing, returning intact a wallet he has found containing $800. It takes more than 200 pages to get the wallet back to its original owner, but the pass-off never becomes the grand event its buildup promises. The oddball characters and slapstick plot turns are sometimes charming, but usually are more silly than funny. The novel constantly interrupts itself with long asides that never attach themselves firmly enough to the story, although they often succeed as humorous vignettes. And the text is peppered with parentheses--as many as seven pairs per page. Often the information within them would have been more cogently presented between commas, but, as with most of the devices employed in this very hit-and-miss book, when the parenthetical asides are done well they contribute an appropriate, jovial casualness to the mood. The setting, Chicago, is always in the forefront, and virtually every mention of a street, avenue or district comes complete with an explanation of how it got its name. The flaw of the novel, which finally just misses the comedy it strives for, lies in Heinemann's overindulgence of his sense of humor and in his tendency to ramble.
Hardcover: 241 pages