Monday, May 21, 2012
The VVA reviews "The Living Wills"
Two author novels are rare. The main reason: Writing fiction is such an intimate, personal business that it's extremely difficult for two people to come up with one literary vision, not to mention implement it. So you have to give credit to Rick Kaempfer and Brendan Sullivan, the two authors of "The Living Wills" (Eckhartz Press, 336 pp, $15.95 paper), a fast-reading novel set in Chicago in 2005, for coming up with a creditable work of fiction. Kaempfer is a Chicago writer and Sullivan is an improv artist in the City of Big Shoulders.
How did the two men put the book together? "We improvised the story lines together using (Sullivan's) techniques," Kaempfer explained, "before sitting down to plot it out and write the chapters of the book--it was a completely collaborative process." The authors "didn't set out to write a Vietnam book," Kaempfer said, "but when we improvised, it simply emerged."
How did the collaboration turn out? Not badly. The dialogue-heavy story hums along rapidly. It's a multi-character affair, centering on veteran Henry Stankiewicz and his late-in-life effort to make amends with his upwardly mobile lawyer son. It's not an easy task, as young Peter is extremely bitter about having suffered from an absent father for most of his childhood while the elder Stankiewicz struggled with postwar emotional and physical issues.
Several interwoven subplots include one involving a depressed middle-aged corporate type and another centering on a group of Henry's bowling buddies. There's also Peter's struggles with his work situation in a big law firm and his relationship with his girlfriend, who happens to be a lawyer at the firm. The main plot deals with something that happened to Henry in Vietnam, and the continuing fallout from that traumatic event in his life and in the lives of a group of his war buddies.
Henry and the other Vietnam veteran characters in the book are good-hearted men who have (to one degree or another) overcome their war-related emotional and physical problems. Henry holds down a blue-collar job, is happily married to a good woman, and has a positive mental outlook. One of his buddies still struggles with alcohol; another is a well-adjusted family man. In other words, the authors have come up with a cast of realistic, non-sensationalized Vietnam veterans living out their lives in the early 21st century--no Nam vet stereotypes here...
The Living Wills is a more-than decent novel filled with sympathetically drawn Vietnam veteran characters. That in itself is worth the price of admission.