“Insidiously, compulsively readable.” — MSNBC
At the thirtieth reunion of the Darton Hall College class of 1969, ten old friends join their classmates for a summer weekend of dancing, drinking, flirting, reminiscing, and regret. The three decades since graduation have brought marriage and divorce, children and careers, hopes deferred and replaced. July, July tells the heart-rending and often hilarious story of men and women who came into adulthood at a moment when American ideals and innocence began to fade. These lives will ring familiar to anyone who has dreamed, worked, and struggled to keep course toward a happy ending.
With humor and a sense of wistful hope, July, July speaks directly to the American character and its resilience, striking deep at the emotional center of our lives.
"A symphony of American life.” — All Things Considered, NPR
“A small-scale tour de force by an American original . . . O’Brien is one of the most accomplished members of a generation of writers that includes Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon.” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Astonishing for [its] clarity of character, for [its] narrative thrills and surprises, for [its] humor and hard-won wisdom . . . July, July gives readers plenty of reasons to celebrate." — Chicago Sun-Times
"Perceptive, affectionate and often very funny." — Boston Herald
"A deeply satisfying story . . . O’Brien is intelligent and daring, but he is also eminently accessible.” — O, the Oprah Magazine
"Taut and compelling." — Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Beautifully realized, heartbreakingly honest." — Providence Journal-Bulletin
“Almost impossible to put down.” — Austin American-Statesman
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
TIM O’BRIEN received the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato. Among his other books are The Things They Carried, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century, and In the Lake of the Woods, winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize.
Date of Birth:October 1, 1946
Place of Birth:Austin, Minnesota
Education:B.A., Macalester College, 1968; Graduate study at Harvard University
Read an Excerpt
Class of '69
The reunion dance had started only an hour ago, but already a good many of the dancers were tipsy, and most others were well along, and now the gossip was flowing and confessions were under way and old flames were being extinguished and rekindled under cardboard stars in the Darton Hall College gymnasium.
Amy Robinson was telling Jan Huebner, a former roommate, about the murder last year of Karen Burns, another former roommate. "It's such a Karen sort of thing," Amy said. "Getting killed like that. Nobody else. Only Karen."
"Right," Jan said. She waited a moment. "Move your tongue, sugar. Details."
Amy made a weary, dispirited movement with her shoulders. "Nothing new, I'm afraid. Same old Karen story, naive as a valentine. Trust the world. Get squished."
"Poor girl," Jan said.
"Poor woman," said Amy.
Jan winced and said, "Woman, corpse, whatever. Still single, I suppose? Karen?"
"And some guy —?"
"God," Jan said.
"Yeah, yeah," said Amy.
Earlier in the evening, they had liberated a bottle of Darton Hall vodka, which was now almost gone, and both of them were feeling the sting of strong spirits and misplaced sentiment. They were fifty-three years old. They were drunk. They were divorced. Time and heartbreak had exacted a toll. Amy Robinson still had her boyish figure, her button nose and freckles, but collegiate perkiness had been replaced by something taut and haggard. Jan Huebner had never been perky. She'd never been pretty, or cute, or even passable, and at the moment her bleached hair and plucked eyebrows and Midnight Plum lipstick offered only the most dubious correctives.
"What I love about men," Jan was saying, "is their basic overall cockiness. That much I adore. Follow me?"
"I do," said Amy.
"Take away that, what the heck have you got?"
"You've got zero."
"Ha!" said Jan.
"Pricks," Amy said.
They fell quiet then, sipping vodka, watching the class of '69 rediscover itself on a polished gymnasium dance floor. Unofficially, this was a thirtieth reunion — one year tardy due to someone's oversight, an irony that had been much discussed over cocktails that evening, and much joked about, though not yet entirely deciphered. Still, it made them feel special. So, too, did the fact that they were convening on a deserted campus, in the heart of summer, more than a month after the standard graduation-day gatherings. The school had a forlorn, haunted feel to it, many memories, many ghosts, which seemed appropriate.
"Well," Jan Huebner finally said. "Bad news, of course — Karen's dead. But here's some good news. Gal never went through a divorce."
"That's a fact," Amy said.
"I mean, ouch."
"Ouch is accurate," Amy said.
Jan nodded. "Twenty-nine years, almost thirty, and guess what? That slick ex-hubby of mine, Richard the Oily, he grins and waves at me and strolls out the door. Doesn't walk, doesn't run. Strolls. Talk about murder. Am I wrong about that?"
"You are not wrong," said Amy.
"We're discussing the male gender, aren't we?"
"Well, there's your moral," Jan said. "One way or the other, they'll kill you dead. Every time, flowers and gravestones. No exceptions."
"Stone dead," Amy said, and leaned back to scan the crowd of aging dancers. Thirty-one years, she thought. After a time she sighed and freshened their drinks and said, "What say we get laid tonight?" "Yes, ma'am," said Jan. "By pricks. Big, dumb, bald ones."
Amy raised her glass. "To Karen Burns."
"To divorce," said Jan, and then she turned and waved at Marv Bertel, a come-dance-with-us motion, but Marv shook his head, tapped his chest, and leaned back heavily against the bar.
Marv was recovering from a dance with Spook Spinelli, wondering if his heart could take another hit. He doubted it. He doubted, too, that he should risk another bourbon, except the drink was already in his hand, cold as a coffin, and might quiet the jump in his heart. Partly the problem was Spook Spinelli: those daredevil eyes of hers, that candid, little-girl laugh. Over half a lifetime, through two tepid marriages, Marv had been massaging the fantasy that something might develop between them. Pitiful, he thought, yet even now he couldn't stop hoping. All those years, all that wee-hour solitaire, and he was still snagged up in Spook Spinelli. Also, there was the issue of a failing triple bypass, the butter in his arteries, the abundant flab at his waist. All the same, Marv reasoned, this was a goddamn reunion, possibly his last, so he knocked the drink back and asked the bartender for one more, on the rocks, double trouble.
Across the gym, under a flashing blue spotlight, Spook Spinelli was dancing with Billy McMann. They hammed it up, making faces, being sexy for each other, but Billy did not once take his eyes off Dorothy Stier, who stood talking near the bandstand with Paulette Haslo. After three decades, Billy still hated Dorothy. He also loved her. The love and the hate had hardened inside him, one reinforcing the other like layers of brick and mortar. In a few minutes, Billy decided, he would treat himself to another drink, or maybe three or four, and then he would amble up to Dorothy and explain the love-hate dynamic to her in all its historic detail.
Dorothy knew Billy was watching. She knew, too, that Billy still worshipped her. Later, she told herself, there would be time to take him outside and admit to the terrible mistake she had made in 1969. Not that it was a mistake, not in the long run, because Dorothy had a sweet husband and two incredible kids and memberships in a couple of smart-set country clubs. Still, if Billy needed a lie, she saw no harm in offering one. Almost certainly she would kiss him. Almost certainly she would cry a little. For now, though, Dorothy was busy telling Paulette Haslo about her breast cancer, which thank God was in remission, and how supportive her sweet husband and two incredible kids had been.
It was July 7, 2000, a humid Friday evening.
The war was over, passions were moot, and the band played a slow, hollowed-out version of an old Buffalo Springfield tune. For everyone, there was a sense of nostalgia made fluid by present possibility.
"So sad, so bizarre," Amy Robinson was saying, "but so predictable, too. The old Karenness, that's what killed her. She never stopped being Karen."
"Who did it?" said Jan Huebner.
Amy wagged her head. "Nobody knows for sure. Some guy she had a crush on, some creep, which is par for Karen's course. Never any luck."
"Never, ever," Jan said. "And the thing is, she could've been a knockout, all the ingredients. That gorgeous red hair, tons and tons of it. I mean, she was a knockout."
"Weight problem, of course," said Amy.
"So true," said Jan.
"Plus her age. Face it, she was piling up the mileage like all of us." Amy sighed. "Total shame, isn't it? The golden generation. Such big dreams — kick ass, never die — but somehow it all went poof. Hard thing to swallow, but biology doesn't have politics. The old bod, you know? Just keeps doing its silly, deadly, boring shit."
"True again," said Jan, and blinked down at her hands. "What happened to us?"
"Got me," said Amy.
"Maybe the Monkees."
"Plain as day," Jan said. "A whole generation kicks off with the Monkees, how the heck could we expect things to work out? 'I'm a believer, I couldn't leave her'— I mean, yikes, talk about starting off on the wrong foot. So naive I want to cry. Last train to Clarksville, babe, and we're all aboard."
Amy nodded. "You're right," she said.
"Of course I'm right," said Jan.
"May I ask a question?"
"Where's our vodka?"
Similar conversations were occurring all across the darkened gym. Death, marriage, children, divorce, betrayal, loss, grief, disease: these were among the topics that generated a low, liquid hum beneath the surface of the music. At a table near the bar, three classmates sat discussing Amy Robinson's recent good fortune, how after years of horrid luck she had finally met a decent guy, a math teacher, and how on her honeymoon the two of them had won a sweepstakes or a bingo tournament or a state lottery, something of the sort, no one knew quite what. In any case, Amy was now very well off, with a fat bank account and a brand-new Mercedes and a swimming pool the size of Arkansas. Her marriage, though, had failed. "Barely two weeks," someone said, and someone else said, "Talk about irony. Poor Amy. Finally gets lucky, lands a guy, and then the guy turns unlucky. Even her good luck goes rotten."
Thirty-one years ago, in the brutal spring of 1969, Amy Robinson and many others had lived beyond themselves, elevated by the times. There was good and evil. There was moral heat. But this was the year 2000, a new millennium, congeniality in public places, hope gone stale, morons become millionaires, and the gossip was about Ellie Abbott's depression, Dorothy Stier's breast cancer, Spook Spinelli's successful double marriage and the fact that she seemed to be going for a triple that evening with either Marv Bertel or Billy McMann.
"The terrible thing," Jan Huebner was saying, "is that Karen was obviously the best of us. Huge heart. Full of delusions, I'll grant you, but the girl never once gave up hope."
"Which is what killed her," said Amy.
"Sorry?" "Hope. Lethal."
Jan thought about it for a while. She also thought about her ex-husband, how he waved and strolled out the door. "Maybe we should just stop hoping," she said. "Maybe that's the trick. Never hope."
"You think so?" said Amy.
"Sort of," said Jan.
After some consideration Amy Robinson shrugged and said, "Boy, let's hope not," and the two of them laughed and moved toward the bar to check on Marv Bertel's heart.
The music now was hard-core Stones translated for the times by clarinets.
Techs were tumbling. Portfolios were in trouble.
Karen Burns was murdered.
"Hard to believe," classmates would say, about this, about that, about belief itself. And as people conversed, shaking their heads, disbelieving, a pair of slide projectors cast fuzzy old photographs against one of the gymnasium walls: Amy Robinson as a pert, freckled, twenty-year-old rabble-rouser; Jan Huebner dressed up as a clown; Karen Burns eyeing a newly hired professor of sociology; David Todd looking trim and sheepish in his blue and gold baseball uniform; Spook Spinelli posing topless for the Darton Hall yearbook; Dorothy Stier in a pink prom gown, ill at ease, glaring at the camera; Billy McMann clutching Dorothy's hand; Marla Dempsey chasing Paulette Haslo with a fire extinguisher; Ellie Abbott and Marv Bertel and Harmon Osterberg playing cantaloupe-soccer in a crowded noontime dining hall. According to a reunion brochure, sixty-two percent of the class had settled in the Twin Cities area — Amy Robinson and Jan Huebner lived seven blocks apart in the nearby suburb of Eden Prairie. Forty-nine percent had paid at least one visit to divorce court. Sixty-seven percent were married. Fifty-eight percent described themselves as "unlucky in love." Almost eighty percent had selected "romance and/or spiritual fulfillment" as the governing principle of their lives. In the gymnasium that evening, under cardboard stars, there were six attorneys, twelve teachers, five physicians, one chemist, three accountants, nineteen entrepreneurs, fourteen full-time mothers, one chief executive officer, one actor, one minister, one Lutheran missionary, one retired librarian, one lieutenant governor. Billy McMann owned a chain of hardware stores in Winnipeg. Amy Robinson practiced criminal law. David Todd, who had lost a leg in 1969, and who was now divorced from Marla Dempsey, ran a successful custom-made furniture business. Paulette Haslo was a Presbyterian minister, although currently without a church, which was still another topic of conversation. "Hard to believe, isn't it?" said a former point guard for the Darton Hall women's basketball team, now a mother of three. "Little Miss Religion, our own Paulette, she got caught breaking into this ... I shouldn't say. Big scandal. God fired her."
"Wow, that's horrible," said a former teammate, an accountant for Honeywell. "Maybe we should — you know — go say something."
"I don't know what. Try to help."
The former point guard, now a mother of three, shook her head and said, "No way, I deserve some fun," and then she moved off swiftly toward the bar.
A solid one hundred percent of them, the brochure declared, had come to the reunion "ready to party."
It was a muggy evening, oppressively hot. In an open doorway at the rear of the gymnasium, Ellie Abbott fanned herself with a fallen cardboard star, sharing a cigarette with David Todd and Marla Dempsey. The three of them were cordial enough, even laughing at times, but here too, as with Amy Robinson and Jan Huebner, hope was a problem. Marla was hoping that David would stop staring at her. Ellie was hoping that Marla would stop talking about their classmate Harmon Osterberg, who had drowned last summer in the waters of northern Minnesota. David Todd was hoping that Marla regretted leaving him in favor of a glib young stockbroker with a wallet only slightly fatter than his head.
"He was a dentist," Marla said. She looked at Ellie, then at David, then down at her folded arms. "Harmon, I mean. And a good dentist, too. Super gentle. At least that's what people said." She stopped, looked away. "Maybe you already knew that."
"I did," said Ellie.
Marla sighed. "God, it makes me sick. Such a dear, dear guy, always so happy, and now he's just — no offense — he's this dead dentist. I mean, if Harmon could be here tonight, I bet anything he'd be telling dentist jokes."
"And drowning jokes," said David.
Ellie said nothing. For eleven and a half months she had said nothing.
She made a vague flipping motion with her wrist, took a last drag on David's cigarette, excused herself, slipped inside, sat alone on the bleachers for a time, waited for the loons to leave her head, waited for Harmon to finish drowning, and then went off to find her husband.
In the gymnasium's open doorway, David Todd and Marla Dempsey watched Ellie slide away into the crowd of dancers.
"Take a guess what I'm thinking," David said.
"Ellie and Harmon," said Marla. "They came close a million times. Maybe finally ..."
"No. Not like us."
A quiet came between them, which they recognized from their years of marriage. They'd always wanted different things; it was no one's fault. Even while they were together, Marla had made it clear that she could not wholly commit, that their marriage was an experiment, that David's missing leg sometimes gave her the creeps. She hated touching the purply stump, hated looking at it. And there was also the scary suspicion that this man could sometimes read her mind, like a fortuneteller, as if some peeping tom had been slipping him all her secrets over the years.
Even now, as David smiled at her, Marla wondered what the smile concealed. He was a good man, yes, but even his goodness frightened her.
"So go ahead," David was saying. "I'm ready."
"Go ahead what?"
"Ask where I'm staying."
Marla frowned. "Where?"
"On campus. Flarety Hall. We can be there in sixty seconds."
"If we run?"
"Gimp," David said, and slapped a hand against his prosthesis. "Take our time, move slow, it'll be like —" "Stop."
"Right. Sorry. I'm stopped."
Marla studied him with flat, neutral eyes. "Anyway, look at me. Eight extra pounds. Not a clue where it came from. And this face like a Brillo pad, all these wrinkles."
"You look exquisite," said David.
"Sweet, sweet lie."
"My pleasure." David took the cigarette from her lips and threw it to the ground. "Don't do that to yourself. Makes a girl infertile."
Marla glanced at him, surprised.
"I hadn't noticed that you've stopped."
"No. But I'm me, my love. You're you."
"Sorry again. Divorced, right?"
"Light me another one, David."
He tapped out a cigarette, slipped it between her lips, struck a match, and watched her lean in toward the flame. Lovely woman, he thought. Steel eyes. Silver-blond hair, cut short. Trim. No hips. No sign of any extra eight pounds. They'd remained friends over the years, sharing lunches, sometimes sharing a bed, and David found it impossible to believe that they would not somehow end up living together and getting old together and finally occupying the same patch of earth. Anything else seemed mad. Worse than mad. Plain evil.
Marla blew smoke into the July night.
"Much better," she said.
"Not for our babies."
"David, please, just lay off the baby bit. I'm low on the estrogen. Empty tanks. I'm old."
"You're not old."
"Oh, I am. Always was." She looked away, looked back at him, went up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "It's this reunion crap, David. Makes people mushy."
"Mushy, mushy me," said David.
"Absolutely. Mushy you."
"I need to ask something."
"Is it mushy?"
"No," she said. "Don't ask."
Marla folded her arms and stepped back.
She was fond of David, and wished things could be otherwise, but what he wanted from her had never been a possibility. Ordinary love — what most people thought of as love — meant little to her. All she'd ever wanted was to be alone.
Excerpted from "July, July"
Copyright © 2002 Tim O'Brien.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
Class of '69,
What Went Wrong,
Class of '69,
About the Author,
What People are Saying About This
"A small-scale tour de force by an American original . . . Tim O'Brien is one of the most accomplished members of a generation of writers that includes Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon."
"The individual portraits are astonishing for their clarity of character, for their narrative thrills and surprises, for their humor and hard-won wisdom. . . . July, July gives readers plenty of reasons to celebrate."
"Taut and compelling."
Los Angeles Times
"O'Brien's individual stories are crafted with exquisite precision. His writing is taut and unsentimental, and packs an emotional wallop."
San Francisco Chronicle
"O'Brien's individual stories are crafted with exquisite precision. His writing is taut and unsentimental, and packs an emotional wallop." (San Francisco Chronicle)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This novel is a great look into the vietnam war from a whole new persective.
It is July of 2000, and the members of the class of 1969 at Darton Hall College are having their 30-year reunion, one year too late. In this novel we meet several of those not-so-gracefully aging flower children, now shopworn and wondering what their lives were really all about. And as the reunion progresses, we journey back into each one¿s life, to other Julys in other years, when important choices were made and paths were taken that could not be reversed.While the story and its characters are a bit confusing at first, jumping from person to person so it¿s difficult to keep straight who is who, who loves who, who is married to whom, that is all intentional, and its meaning comes clear as each person¿s story unfolds. Because that¿s what memory is like, not a smoothly unfolding continuum but a jumble of moments, the most important moments making up a patchwork of a life. The book feels uneven from time to time, or rushed, or as if some characters get short shrift while others ¿ particularly David, who represents the Vietnam experience ¿ appear far too frequently, but none of that really matters.Because these perfectly ordinary people are, in the end, completely compelling, and so are their perfectly ordinary lives. Breast cancer, Vietnam flashbacks, jiltings, divorces, affairs, the stupid mistakes we all make and we all can relate to, are lovingly detailed. And these characters, despite their many, very human faults, are our friends, our spouses, ourselves ¿ and all the more endearing for it.
I really like these stories combined into a novel. I assign it as one of my options to LS students with the comment -- "if you want to know what your parents were doing by the end of the Vietnam war" read this -- of course, now for some of them, it is what their GRANDparents were doing.
Amazing characterization, most enjoyable read. Wonderful flashbacks to 1969 and up to present. My very favorite kind of writing. Rich, nuanced relationships, a real reflection on growing older and life's journeys. Very realistic. So good, I started it on the way to Rome, couldn't finish there, waited four months until I had time, and started it all over again. I NEVER do that! But I knew this one would be worth it, and it was.
Great character development and a good read. Thoroughly enjoyable.
I really like O'Brien's writing style. The characters are very carefully explained. It was really a very good novel to read.I would recomend this to anyone approach those big re-unions to lighten the mood.
I really enjoined this book. Each character was layered and the book really had a real texture to it. I didn't like the fact that all the characters were still the exact same after thirty years.
I read an excerpt from 'The Things They Carried' in my english course. I loved it... and then read 'July, July.' I read this book expecting a novel set in the Vietnam period, but O'Brien suprised me with a modern day retelling... through fascinating characters at a college reunion. I read this book as i prepared to graduate high school and it made me realize the complexities that lie ahead and the weight of all of my current decisions.
Through a complex and unrelenting exploration, O'Brien writes a memorable tale about love, trauma, friendship, and storytelling. In form to not mourn the past but to celebrate the future, O'Brien reveals the truism that life isn't over until its over.
I loved this book. These characters are REAL. To me it is a look at what is grotesque and sad and illuminating in a life composed of real and imagined dramas. What makes Tim O'Brien such an amazing writer is how he captures what is so real, and so profound in life, in such a small capsule of pages. He is brilliant. He is insightful.
I enjoyed the character study Tim O'Brien presented in 'July, July.' Although alot of the reveiwers felt his characters were shallow and self-absorbed, I feel this book is a good reflection of life. When attending college, people have so many dreams and plans, and often don't think about situations that may prohibit these plans - cancer, loss of a limb. I think he did a fine and truthful portrayal of 'LIFE.'
I am a big Tim O'Brian fan. "Going After Cacciato", "In The Lake Of The Woods", and "Tomcat In Love" were each very different, yet excellent in their own way. "July, July" is a disappointing soap opera. How could it be that after 31 years each of these characters would end up the same, an incredibly self-absorbed bore. Through their various levels of gray and decay, it seems that "scoring" is the only activity that can generate any enthusiasm. These folks should be bragging about their children and recalling with whimsy their crushes and causes of 30 years ago. Instead we are presented with an epidemic of arrested development. Might I suggest renting "The Big Chill" instead. It will take less time and you can get to see some wonderful performers in the early stages of their careers.
There are no really likable characters here. All of them have major personal problems that resulted from choices they made. Most of them chose to be a victim. The book reminded me why I don't enjoy reunions. Nevertheless, O'Brien has a way with words and a keen insight into human character. I read the book in two nights. It's very entertaining. I think most 'Nam vets would like it. I did.
When Tim O'Brien postponed graduate work at Harvard to serve in Vietnam, surely, he had no idea that he would one day become America's preeminent chronicler of those war years and garner a National Book Award. His prose is both brilliant and courageous. With the funny and poignant "July, July" O'Brien returns to the era that so shapes his writing, but this time rather than focusing on the soldiers he spotlights those who were left behind. When asked about his emphasis on female characters in his latest work, the author replied, "....in part it was a technical challenge, to prove to myself that I could do it, that as a writer I could portray convincing, detailed, intelligent, compelling women. More important, it seemed to me that most of the fiction set in the watershed era of the late 1960s focuses on stories about men - the pressures of war, draft-dodging, and so on. But for every man who went to Vietnam, or for every man who went to Canada, there were countless sisters and girlfriends and wives and mothers, each of whom had her own fascinating story, her own tragedies and suffering, her own healing afterward....." With "July, July" we meet many of these women at the thirtieth reunion of Minnesota's Darton Hall College class of 1969. Ten old friends meet again for a weekend in July to reminisce, drink, and rue what might have been Much has happened in the past three decades; , careers have flourished and floundered, children have been born, and marriages made in heaven have ended. It seems fitting that Jan Huebner and Amy Robinson toast their exes with vodka and hope for better days. Dorothy Stier, a wealthy Reagan Republican is recovering from a radical mastectomy and her 30-year-old decision to let draft dodger Billy McMann wend his way to Winnipeg alone. Even with two husbands Spook Spinelli is still on the prowl and sets her failing sight on a tubby rich man with a weak heart. Other riveting characters charm and disarm, while Johnny Ever, perhaps an angel, always hovers. He is there to disturb consciences and remind, as O'Brien has said, "I'm not sure if Johnny is an angel or a devil or a voice of conscience or just a weird metaphysical middleman. But yes, Johnny is meant to lift the story out of time, to remind both the characters and the reader that human beings have gone through certain universal troubles and joys throughout history, and to remind us of those abiding mysteries and unknown that envelop all of human experience." Tim O'Brien has crafted an incandescent novel penned with astounding insight and unforgettable power.