By John Weeks
San Bernardino Sun
December 12th, 2010
Harry Hudson is a journalist with a debilitating stammer. He’s a communicator who barely can speak. And if that isn’t enough cause for inner conflict, he also blames himself for the drowning death of his daughter, and the killing of an innocent old man while serving a tour of duty in Vietnam.
Oh, and then there are his addiction issues.
We get the idea that Hudson is headed down the road to a fateful reckoning.
In fact, we get the idea in the opening sentence of the new novel “The Chieu Hoi Saloon” by Southland author Michael Harris:
“A year later, when it was Harry Hudson’s blood on the floor of the Chieu How Saloon, Mama Thuy remembered the first time she’d seen him — a big guy in a tweed jacket, helping Rita and Nacy Swede mop up somebody else’s blood from around the legs of the pool table.”
“Chieu hoy” are words that not only appear in the title of the book, and in the title of the fictional Long Beach tavern that is a cross-roads for much of the book’s action. They are words that echo throughout the story. They are Vietnamese for “giving up.”
Harry Hudson is not giving up without a fight, however. He struggles mightily with his demons, aided at times by unlikely allies including saloon owner Mama Thuy and a hooker named Kelly Crenshaw, who prove the point that friends are wherever you find them.
Hudson’s longshot quest for redemption which unfolds against the chaotic backdrop of the Rodney King riots in 1992 Los Angeles, is a compelling story and a compulsive read.
Harris, the novelist, has been writing this book his whole life, it would seem, because there is so much of his own life in it. Like Hudson he hails from the North-West, he lives in Long Beach, and he’s a stutterer, a Vietnam vet and a journalist.
He has worked for the los Angeles Times, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, among other papers. “The Chieu Hoi Saloon” is his first novel.
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.