Everyday life and war experiences fit together about as well as guns and poetry—a combination that author Howard L Hibbard makes feel almost natural in his Vietnam War novel, the Curse of the Coloring Book. The truth of real experience is neither picture-book enticement nor text-book knowledge but somewhere in between—somewhere the author has clearly been. Bringing Vietnam to life through haunting details, from sudden death to sodden airmail paper; adding a vivid depiction of the world of a small-town attorney; stirring in family and friends who would help if only they could, and others who wouldn’t; it’s a heady mix and a story that’s hard to put down. The man, who once risked life and limb by failing to examine a coloring book’s promise, now risks family and career after failing to examine a legal document. And the man who held lives in his hands now has flashbacks when he should be striding forward.
The story’s told mostly through the eyes of Herald Lloyd, an attorney “cursed” with a catastrophic mistake and a huge dependence on alcohol. But perhaps he’s cursed by a much smaller error of judgement—a mystery the reader waits to see resolved. And perhaps the coloring book he blamed for his troubles is waiting to cause more pain. He’s a man who doesn’t know what he needs, just as he was once a youth who imagined war would provide a solution to his problems.
War is viewed mostly through Herald’s eyes and sometimes through the gaze of others—a wise soldier needing to see his neighbor’s thoughts perhaps. Sometimes, hauntingly, it’s even viewed through Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind poetry. Characters are achingly real. Location is fraught with danger. And true knowledge is far more than books and promotion.
As the story progresses, it becomes hard to guess how it will end. Pages rush by between ever more urgent distractions, and perhaps those final scenes are anticlimactic… and perhaps that’s perfect in a novel of Vietnam’s conflict. There’s a sequel I believe, but this book stands alone and unique—a solid convincing voice, a haunting tale of past and present colliding, and a place where all the options finally point to a single-color, single-way forward, one step at a time.
Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review. Sheila-Goodreads
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