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Michael Harris

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Michael Harris grew up in a little railroad town in Northern California, in the loom of Mt. Shasta, whose mystic influence shadowed him from the University of Oregon to Harvard to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An Army veteran of Vietnam, he has worked as a Forest Service aide, a janitor and an English conversation teacher in Tokyo. For 30 years, he was a reporter, editor and book reviewer for West Coast newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Like his alter ego, Harry Hudson, he stutters and is a gloomy cuss. He lives with his wife in Long Beach; they have a grown son. The Chieu Hoi Saloon is his first novel.  

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The Chieu Hoi Saloon
By Michael Harris
Published: October 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60486-112-9
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 320



Los Angeles. 1992. Three people's lives are about to collide against the flaming backdrop of the Rodney King riots. Vietnam vet Harry Hudson is a rootless journalist fleeing a fear-ridden childhood, the specter of a civilian he shot in Vietnam for reasons he has yet to fathom, and the drowning of his 2-year-old daughter while he sat by drunk.

He stutters and wrestles with depression, aware he's passed the point at which victim becomes victimizer. Drawn remorselessly to the lowest dives where he feels at home, he meets Mama Thuy, a bombshell struggling to run a Navy bar in a tough Long Beach neighborhood, and Kelly Crenshaw, a prostitute whose husband is in prison.

The Chieu Hoi Saloon as character study hauls you kicking into humanity's very depths, and then drives you through the darkness as thriller: Will Harry find the love and redemption he seeks or, blinded by loneliness and need, will he commit yet another crime?


"Mike Harris' novel has all the brave force and arresting power of Celine and Dostoevsky in its descent into the depths of human anguish and that peculiar gallantry of the moral soul that is caught up in irrational self-punishment at its own failings. Yet Harris manages an amazing and transforming affirmation—the novel floats above all its pain on pure delight in the variety of the human condition. It is a story of those sainted souls who live in bars, retreating from defeat but rendered with such vividness and sensitivity that it is impossible not to care deeply about these figures from our own waking dreams. In an age less obsessed by sentimentality and mawkish 'uplift,' this book would be studied and celebrated and emulated."
--John Shannon, author of The Taking of the Waters and the Jack Liffey mysteries

"Michael Harris is a realist with a realist's unflinching eye for the hard truths of contemporary times. Yet in The Chieu Hoi Saloon, he gives us a hero worth admiring: the passive, overweight, depressed and sex-obsessed Harry Hudson, who in the face of almost overwhelming despair still manages to lead a valorous life of deep faith. In this powerful and compelling first novel, Harris makes roses bloom in the gray underworld of porno shops, bars and brothels by compassionately revealing the yearning loneliness beneath the grime—our universal human loneliness that seeks transcendence through love."
--Paula Huston, author of Daughters of Song and The Holy Way

"The Chieu Hoi Saloon concerns one Harry Hudson, the literary bastard son of David Goodis and Dorothy Hughes. Hardcore and unsparing, the story takes you on a ride with Harry in his bucket of a car and pulls you into his subterranean existence in bright daylight and gloomy shadow. One sweet read."
--Gary Phillips, author of The Jook

"Michael Harris is one of those rare beings: a natural writer, with insight, sensitivity and enviable talent."

--Charlotte Vale Allen, author of Daddy's Girl and Mood Indigo

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  • The Next Big Thing
    Is it "The Chieu Hoi Saloon," the novel I published with PM Press in 2010? Or the novel I recently finished? Or the novel I've just started? 

The Chieu Hoi Saloon Reviewed in Publishers Weekly
Publisher's Weekly
February 21, 2011

Vietnam vet, journalist, and lifelong stutterer Harry Hudson, the protagonist of Harris's poignant debut, dreams of a Sydney Carton moment that might redeem him. Two tragedies haunt Harry—the inexplicable killing of an old man in Vietnam and the drowning death of his two-year-old daughter due to his drunken inattention. In 1990, Harry relocates from Oregon to Long Beach, Calif., where he works on the copy desk of the local newspaper and explores the seedier side of life where he feels most at home. The women he connects with, principally Mama Thuy, owner of the Chieu Hoi Saloon, and black prostitute Kelly Crenshaw, find Harry a good friend as well as a willing dupe. Against a backdrop of increasing racial tension generated by the Rodney King trial, Harris unsparingly depicts hard, sometimes sordid lives and the peculiar symbiosis that helps such disparate characters survive. This impressive novel reaches deep into the souls of its characters. (Apr.)

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The Chieu Hoi Saloon Reviewed on Booklist
By Thomas Gaughan
February 15, 2011
Chieu hoi is Vietnamese for give up, and most of the regulars at the titular saloon in Long Beach have done exactly that. Harry Hudson, the protagonist, is a copy editor at the local newspaper, but emotionally he fits right in. Having fled his marriage, he is trying to drink away his tattered and tragic past and finds that the Chieu Hoi, a church with a "congregation of fools," makes an ideal venue. He and the other regulars gather there hoping that Mama Thuy, the bar's formidable owner, can impart in them some of her "wholeness." Set in 1992, in the months before the riots following the police beating of Rodney King, Harris' often-compelling novel features a number of well-developed characters. But the author overreaches in attempting to tell very closely observed stories about a handful of characters while also offering broader sketches of a gritty port city in decline, the L.A. riots, racism, and the plight of minorities in the L.A. metropolitan area. There's much to like here, but some readers will wish for a narrower focus.

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Chieu Hoi Saloon Reviewed on Midwest Book Review
By Diane Simmons
Midwest Book Review
January 2011
Harry Hudson, the hero of Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon, reminds me of other hulkingly desperate, endlessly searching, secretly intellectual loners of literature. I think especially Thomas Wolfe's Eugene Gant, hurling himself into "immense and swarming" New York City. Perhaps it is only the outsider, the tortured seeker for something that couldn't be found in his nowhere home town, who can truly plumb a great city's depths.

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From hell to Long Beach and Beyond
By Ray Murphy
Seattle Examiner
December 30, 2010
What’s so engrossing about this character is not that he’s bent on resolving his conflict, but that he’s bent on living with it.   Free of narrative predestination, Henry Hudson is a survivor, not only of conflict but of literary form, all the way to the end. With all his crazy troubles, he’s not quite like you and me.  But we, with our lesser crazy troubles, have in Harry a fictional peer for whom we feel genuine respect.

And in Michael Harris, we have a writer that readers unabashedly can champion.

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Chieu Hoi Saloon is a Grab-Hold Read
By John Weeks
The San Bernadino Sun
December 12, 2010
Harris writes like a journalist, of course, because he is one. That’s a good thing. His words are well-chosen for impact, and they move quickly and efficiently. In fact, he delivers his narrative like a machine gunner squeezing off staccato bursts of fire. The book’s short, run-on vignettes create a relentless torrent that keeps readers racing.
It’s a challenge, sometimes, to keep up. But the reward is a breakneck read that exhilarates and satisfies. It has been a very long time since a novel kept me up all night.
This one did.
The Chieu Hoi Saloon
Benjamin Whitmer
November 16, 2010
It’s probably not incidental that I’ve been thinking so much about character while reading Michael Harris’ The Chieu Hoi Saloon. It’s one of the most harrowing depictions of a character in crisis that I’ve ever read. Denis Lehane once described noir as working class tragedy, where the characters “don’t fall from great heights, they fall from the curb.” Harry Hudson, The Chieu Hoi Saloon‘s protagonist, falls from curb to gutter to sewer, and somehow manages to keep falling. The stakes are small, there are no hamhanded plot points, there’s just this one broken and heartbreaking character doing the best he can to play with the hand he’s been dealt. It’s a minor miracle he even manages to survive the hell of his day-to-day existence; that he does so with a kind of grace and courage is evidence of how wonderful a writer Harris is.

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