OCBookBlog: “The Sentimentalists” by Joanna Skibsrud
Giller Award-winning poet/novelist Johanna Skibsrud.
The aftermath of the Vietnam war has been rarely, too rarely, rendered into fiction. It’s a hard story to tell. We see too often the now clichéd Post Traumatic Stress Disorder persona of the ex-military men, or the hardships of the Ameri-Asian marriage. What we haven’t seen is this sort of story: the quiet implosion of the Vietnam vet, the effect on his family, the lingering impact of a war never won.
Poet Johanna Skibsrud won the prestigious Canadian Giller Prize for her first novel, The Sentimentalists, which beautifully recasts the truth of life between a veteran and his family. We see a man torn apart but without words to define his plight. His family suffers from his emotional distance and his frequent disappearances, alcoholism, and the struggle to reconcile the pre-war life from the post. It is a touching and beautifully told story that starts quietly in the aftermath and goes back into the very mouth of the tiger. No one is quite what you might imagine and the supporting cast adds great depth to an otherwise simple story.
It is also the touching tale of the irreconcilable connection between father and daughter, despite circumstance or history. Recently published in the US by W. W. Norton, perhaps the best purveyor of quality fiction in America, this is a book worth reading. Despite the title, it avoids the pitfall of hyper-sentimentalism in favor of realism. Short and sweet, this novel is worth your time. Every baby boomer will understand well what we all lived through but few of us experienced directly. If no room on your summer reading list, “The Sentimentalists “would make a great curl-up-and-read by the fire reading in the fall.
Available in hardcover or as an e-book download. Happy reading.
“The Sentimentalists” by Johanna Skibsrud; hardcover, 208 pp.; W.W. Norton & Co.