I was sent a complimentary copy of this novel by the author in return for an honest review – thank you very much! That fact didn’t influence my opinion in any way.
Max is a suicidal, heroin-addicted paraplegic Vietnam veteran with leukemia. His illness was caused by Agent Orange, a herbicide-defoliant sprinkled liberally over Vietnam jungle to expose Vietcong militants. Max’s life makes no sense until he teams up with a Mai, his favorite Vietnamese prostitute from a massage parlor to go on a cross-country adventure to destroy Monsanto, the evil corporation responsible for destroying Max’s health and for poisoning Mai’s forest village. There will be blood, rapes, thefts, murders and plenty of drugs. Still will it be enough?
I have to say my feelings are mixed; it wasn’t a pleasant book but I suppose you shouldn’t expect nice when dealing with such topic. The author wanted to show how individual people suffered because a company had wanted to test their product or a government had wanted to have a war. It is never nice, being a lab rat of a kind and it might happen to anybody.
So we get Max Wright, a Vietnam war veteran, a dingy bearded cripple who is so twisted that in order to straighten him you would need a steamroller or a tank. He deals drugs, he smokes, he drinks heavily, he pops Valium and whatever downer pills he gets from a doctor as if they were sweets and he dreams of a pair of prosthetic leg implants which can be had for 10k dollars or so he is led to believe. Still how an unemployed vet, with as many bad habits as fleas on a stray dog, might earn so much? Illegally of course – stealing, dealing, lying through his teeth, even occasionally pimping his girlfriend prostitute, a Vietnamese woman called Mai Linh Trahn.
Still Max is not a completely bad man. He can be loyal – as far as his drug-addled brain allows him to be. He saves his friend from an ugly lynch. He seems to truly love and care for Mai. He hopes that his life might change for better which is kind of delusional and sweet, taking into account the fact that he also wants to fight against a big ugly corporation which produced Agent Orange, destroyed Vietnam, his health and the family of Mai.
If gross scenes, a present tense narration, gratuitous sex and violence and a completely ambiguous ending don’t discourage you read this one. After starting it I was toying with the idea of DNF for like 10-20 pages and I am surprised I actually finished it. However it must be admitted the author knows how to construct his fiction. The story pulled me inside and didn’t want to let go, its raw honesty being actually refreshing. I liked the fragments about the Warehouse and its inhabitants – all vegans and all fighting the system – the best. I liked Max and Mai a bit too but I wish their story wasn’t cut so abruptly short.
The present tense narration was also something I had to get used to but ultimately the story prevailed because I like flawed heroes and I like it when they try to change something against the odds. Even if you know it can’t end well. The action was there but the characterization could have been done much better in my very humble opinion.
Not a bad book but also nothing easy to read. I was a bit put off by the fact that the author used his story to ‘proselytize’ a bit – if you care to read the interview at the back of the book you will know what I mean. I have nothing against vegans, I am a vegetarian myself but when I see somebody’s style of life pitched in their novel I feel uncomfortable. I also wish I was given a more solid ending. There have been several huge class action lawsuits against the evil Monstanto – Max and Mai testifying in the court along other victims would be such a nice way to show violence is often not the only way of avenging yourself.