*As reviewed on Amazon*
-In the aftermath of a disastrous tour of duty in Vietnam, the protagonist of James Gabbe’s “LaRue’s Maneuvers” struggles for redemption. Jesse Danbars tries to repair the damage to his spirit by writing a fictionalized account of his coming of age. LaRue, Jesse’s literary stand-in, is a sub-species of the Vietnam era: a well-educated, privileged twenty-something whose innocence, aimlessness, and ignorance soon betray him to forces over which he has no control.
LaRue/Jesse finds himself a pawn in the cataclysmic misadventures of the Vietnam War. Alienated by both the absurdities of military life and the mysteries of Vietnamese culture, he struggles to become not just a man but also his own man.
-In “LaRue’s Maneuvers” Gabbe fashions a sophisticated tale-within-a-tale that allows him to manipulate gracefully time and space. The most harrowing chapters of his novel take place in Vietnam, where love proves as treacherous as the Viet Cong, and where, just as LaRue’s cynicism about heroism begins to wane, he witnesses brutality so inexplicable that the only response is to deny any capacity for human nobility. And yet, Gabbe wants his readers to believe that LaRue/Jesse, thanks to the generous spirit of his friends and the love of a good woman, regains his equilibrium and, more importantly, his resistance to despair. There’s enough tragic loss in his story to cast a very deep shadow on a miraculous recovery.
-You think everything about Vietnam and what it did to us (where ever we may be) has been sung, said and written already? You obviously haven’t read Jim Gabbe’s novel. An authentic and disturbing novel, written and published at a time when yet another trauma is in the make in Iraq and in Afghanistan. – Michael Augustin, Radio Bremen
-LaRue’s Maneuvers is a story of how one Vietnam vet tries to heal from his trauma in Southeast Asia. Throughout the story the reader can feel the pain, anguish and confusion of the main character, Jesse Danbar. Jesse struggles to connect with friends who try to help him, but they have their own issues as well. He gropes to find himself some footing and to interact with others both sensitive and insensitive to his torment. All the important characters in LaRue’s Maneuvers are complex, well-developed, and fascinating. Gabbe is skillful in forwarding the motion in each chapter and generating increased anticipation in the reader. Between character descriptions and twists and turns in the story, this reader remained completely engaged in the work from start to finish, and was left with a different and very sober view of the Vietnam war experience.
-LA RUE’S MANEUVERS engages us from the very first page to its hopeful and sensitive conclusion. Combining wrenching descriptions of the 1968 Chicago anti-war demonstrations, how the Vietnam war physically and emotionally took its toll on one and all, the many shadings of friendship and love, lust and practicality, the author writes with an empathetic, honest and unflinching expertise. His characters, their situations, the complicated consequences of their actions and inactions leave the reader enthralled, exhausted, richer and wiser. Highly recommended.
-I finished LaRue and, wow — I had to write. The pace you keep is really unbelievable — and I enjoyed the rich characterizations of LaRue’s circle — especially of McShane, and Vernelle and even Peter Sabian. Very engrossing.
-The Vietnam pieces were really moving. As a child watching TV, seeing my cousins go off to war, and listening to the draft numbers being called on the radio–my memories are not as real as this book–but this book took me there and made me feel it. I liked that there were more Vietnam sections as Danbar became less tethered to reality — that really worked! And finally, the first sentence at the start of Chapter 6 about immigrant families — that could be a whole book and resonated with me thoroughly. I cannot say enough about what an accomplishment this is.
-I loved your wonderful novel for all kinds of reasons–a compelling story; unique, fully defined characters; a stark portrayal of the absurdities of war; and passages of pure lyricism. The way you expressed that moment in love when one’s soul slips into another’s was exquisite. I had a hard time putting the book down. While your novel is not a mystery in the traditional sense, you created a character in Jesse Danbar that the reader really cares about and wants to understand. Why is he the damaged soul we meet early in the book, what made him the way he is and will he be saved? The answers are sometimes unexpected. Your story about how a diverse group of friends are shaped by events in the late 60s is, at its core, a story about the transcendent and life-sustaining power of love.
-I just finished LaRue’s Manuevers and I can say I enjoyed it immensely. I give it a thumbs up – Bravo! I loved the structure, the energy of the writing, the descriptions ranging from battles in Vietnam to battles in streets ringing with the cries of war protestors. I loved the characters – and there are a multitude of them. The author nailed all of them, especially Hue, the Vietnamese woman who captures his heart and, ultimately, breaks it. The idea of a love nest above a bakery supplying the communists which is then destroyed by allies is one of many symbolic statements that push LaRue into the universal. How often is our love destroyed/sabotaged by what nurtures it because we don’t trust….
But Larue’s Maneuvers is much more than a trip down memory lane to the `60’s and Vietnam. For me, it is a trip that speaks to the suffering many veterans have gone through, or are going through, maybe not as violently as Danbar, but suffering we certainly can identify with. This next generation of vets – from Iraq and Afghanistan -could benefit from reading LaRue, and probably will need it even more than we do.
At its essence, this is a book about striving to be a better person, to learn from mistakes, to do the right thing. As Jesse Danbar, the main character, says at the conclusion: “What I take with me in life that gives me life is a simple truth: that you can’t save the world or sometimes even one being or maybe your own soul – but you have to try. You have to dream and hope and love and try no matter what.”
And that is the heart of the book – the trying under the most adverse, daunting circumstances. The trying, as Danbar puts it, to be “That soldier I wasn’t.” But by the end of the book, Danbar has become that soldier – that better person. And I think in the reading, that path is open to all of us – because this is a book about dreaming and hoping and loving and trying no matter what.
-LaRue’s Maneuvers draws us into a turbulent, difficult journey. It is not a journey just for veterans of a war. It is a journey that can instruct and inspire all of us.
-Jim, I really am impressed! This book is good – a substantial work. I enjoyed it very much. I do read a lot – but not very much fiction. When I do read a novel, I tend to be very critical. I found the story plausible and with merit. I felt the characters developed nicely and simultaneously with the storyline. I don’t know how much is based on your life experiences, but it appears there may be more than you acknowledged in Spain. I identified with the protagonist in more than a couple of his life experiences, although, obviously, not with his “in country” (Vietnam)experience. Yet, I believe we who are somewhat sensitive, compassionate, and continually questioning just about everything, are, like LaRue, most capable of a little self-induced psychosis. As my old boss (psychiatrist) used to say “there is a little sane in all of us.”
-Having benefited from LaRue’s Maneuvers myself, I feel it will appeal to others as well. In fact, I feel this work should be read, and I’ll recommend it to friends.
-Obviously you paid attention in class; your work contained all the necessary ingredients to capture this reader’s attention – although it did make me want to re-visit my existential philosophers.
-Jim, I acknowledge the risk you took in writing LaRue’s Maneuvers. It took a lot of reflection, insight and a willingness (need?) to explore intimate aspects of yourself and share them with the world.
-James Gabbe has taken a theme (coming of age in the VietNam era) that we’ve all heard many variations on and made it new, real and touching. The device of moving back and forth in a timeline between two stories: that of the characters in their idealistic youth, and that of their later more complicated selves, is very successful. I was drawn in from the first page and didn’t put it down till I reached the very believeable (and very satisfying) end. A great read just for it’s compelling story, this book has added poignancy today as we as a country once again face the toll that a controversial war is taking on American youth.
-Jim Gabbe’s first novel is a wonderfully colorful narrative about a conflicted young soldier on the brink of manhood during a defining moment in both his and his country’s history.
-Set in the politically volatile Viet Nam era, Jesse Danbar, the novel’s protagonist, moves from idealist to realist, and finally to activist in this emotional story. Love, both romantic and platonic, and the devotion and trust that love implies, are at the core of all Danbar’s relationships. It is this love that keeps a damaged soul on track and, in the end, helps to save him. Because the book evolves as a narrative within a narrative, and there are multiple characters being developed, it takes several chapters for the parts to fall into place. When they do, the story takes off as Danbar finds his voice and ultimately his soul. This novel invites each of us to ponder our own ideals and perhaps face personal questions with a new activism. When backed against a wall – what would you do?
-This first novel by Jim Gabbe is a richly rewarding read for anyone who grew up during the tumultuous era of the Vietnam War and the societal convulsions of the 1960s. Who among us doesn’t see pieces of themselves in Jesse Danbar, a.k.a. LaRue, the novel’s protagonist, who walks a tortured path from youthful naivete to near-ruinous darkness and self-pity to enlightenment and self-discovery. “Life is a riddle wrapped in an enigma,” muses LaRue, and by the end of this ambitious story we have a better idea why.
-LaRue’s Maneuvers is a coming of age story which ropes us in emotionally and never puts us down. LaRue becomes a foot solider in war he abhors, and the chilling images he conveys of a conflict that is both depraved and grotesque are as poignant today as they were back then. But the book’s panoramic sweep goes well beyond Vietnam. We come face-to-face with the fragility of life, and why some individuals like LaRue are able to survive against all odds while others, like his close friend Tim McShane, succumb.
-That conundrum is at the heart of this searching novel. In the end, LaRue comes to grips with a simple truth: no individual can save the world, or even his own soul, but “you have to dream and hope and love and try no matter what.” LaRue indeed tries, and his cathartic journey – as brashly told by Gabbe – is what ultimately saves his life.
-Jim Gabbe’s novel is a complex narrative describing the hopes, confusion, and suffering of a group of friends coming of age at the time of the Viet Nam war. Though the trauma of combat plagues Gabbe’s vet protagonist, the real “enemy” lies in the existential difficulties Gabbe’s characters confront. While the protagonist heals himself through work, love, and art; others of the group are not so fortunate.
-Gabbe’s work represents a powerful effort to break through the stereotypes of ‘hippies’, ‘vets’, or ‘straights’ that have come to cloud our collective memory of those tumultuous years when society itself appeared to be disintegrating; a time during which so many of us found ourselves confronting our own demons after sterotypic enemy of “the establishment” had been defied.
-Gabbe’s novel recalls Robert Stone’s early work, such as Dog Soldiers. While Stone’s characters descended into violence and narcotics, however, Gabbe’s are searching for answers, and occasionally finding them together before they are torn apart again. Despite the grim outcome for some, there is an underlying spirit of enterprise and optimism; although Gabbe’s characters are rebels, there is something quintessentially American about them, and about the courageous, resilient, at times sprawling novel in which they reside.