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.