Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The Enlisted Men’s Club’
‘The Enlisted Men’s Club’
372 pages, softcover; $18.95
Running Meter Press, 2014
Denver novelist Gary Reilly steps out of his taxi and leaves the familiar terrain of his popular “Asphalt Warrior” series in his newest novel, “The Enlisted Men’s Club,” in which he tackles a young military policeman’s ennui in the Vietnam era.
Reilly, who died in 2011 with only a single short story published during his lifetime, left behind a trunk filled with of 25 polished novels and bequeathed them to Denver Post editorial cartoonist Mike Keefe and reporter-turned-novelist Mark Stevens. The pair established Running Meter Press to bring Reilly’s books to readers, beginning with his “Asphalt Warrior” series. The comic novels — apparently there are 11 in all, five have been published to date, and two were finalists for the Colorado Book Award — all featured the semi-autobiographical Denver cab driver Brendan “Murph” Murphy.
The books, filled with wry humor, earned Reilly a posthumous cult following in Colorado and beyond. But Reilly’s trove of novels spanned beyond humor, and is said to also include mystery and science fiction, along with more sober-minded literature such as this latest Reilly release.
Like the “Asphalt Warrior” books, it’s based on Reilly’s own experience. The book — the first in a trilogy — follows Private Palmer during his early days in the U.S. Army, preparing for deployment to Vietnam while stationed in San Francisco.
There’s a sense of doom hanging over Palmer and his time at The Presidio, preparing to serve in a war he doesn’t support and that he’s convinced will kill him. He clashes with his superiors. He craves the life of a “mindless puppet,” following orders and hiding among the rank and file. He sneaks of base to party with Bay Area hippies. And though Palmer senses a reckoning coming overseas, he’s bored by it all.
The unfortunate thing about this book is that while Palmer is awaiting orders with little to do but fight, think and drink beer, the reader, too, is left waiting. Writing an engaging novel about boredom is one of the hardest tricks in the book, and Reilly — despite his extraordinary descriptive powers — doesn’t pull it off in this contemplative character study.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.