Friday, March 1, 2013

Review: THE CHIEU HOI SALOON by Michael Harris

The Chieu Hoi Saloon“For if the Chieu Hoi Saloon was a church, Harry Hudson thought, it was a congregation of fools, of incomplete people gathering around Mama Thuy in hope that some of her wholeness would rub off. A scruffy crew of worshippers who had long since lost the ability – if they ever had it in the first place – to control their behaviour, moment by moment, well enough to pass as normal citizens. While Mama Thuy, in contrast, never stopped being in charge.”

THE CHIEU HOI SALOON is a noir in the Goodis mould without the detailed introspective narrative common throughout his novels. Where Goodis relies on the strength and well defined mannerisms of his characters accompanied by a linear plot to keep the characters heading in a common direction (usually straight to the gutter), Harris places an emphasis on the character’s misgivings, personable interactions and situational ramifications without the fanfare of crafty plot devices. While initially discerning, this detailed study actually added to the free flowing uncertainty attached to the lead character in Harry Hudson by which his meandering and over compensation towards a fleeting glimpse of gratitude is paramount to the picture Harris painstakingly paints.

There are a couple of key components to THE CHIEU HOI SALOON; Harry Hudson – a stuttering and at time blundering mess seeking solace in the arms of paid companionship or the unattainable, Kelly – a prostitute who leaches off Harry’s goodwill and misplaced gratitude in order to finance her living. Harris switches the POV to ensure the reader gets a well rounded account of the story and a look at the differing perspectives. The insight into Kelly’s world and the way she portrays Henry is just as good as Henry’s on her.

The story evolves around the characters that frequent the Chieu Hoi Saloon, ran by Mama Thuy, a Vietnamese woman who’s as tough and provocative as they come, and the various barflies that float in and out of the watering hole. Certain events that take place there involve violence, family drama, and friendship but all have one thing in common – a glimmering hope for a better place albeit viewed through beer goggles.

I liked THE CHIEU HOI SALOON but think it would’ve been slightly better executed had the story been condensed, however, it didn’t deter me from wanting to keep reading. Overall, this is a multilayered noir that’s all about character and longing. Fans of Goodis are bound to enjoy.

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